Practically Holy (Leviticus 19:19-37)

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Gordon Wenham notes of our present text that “this section proceeds from the sublime to the ridiculous! At least that is how the transition from love of neighbour (v. 18) to prohibitions on mixed breeding (v. 19; cf. Deut. 22:9-11) strikes the modern reader. But in Israel both were aspects of holiness. . . . In the major and minor decisions of life, Israel was constantly reminded that she was different; that she was holy, set apart for God’s service.”1

In other words, when God decrees that His people are to be holy, He intends for them to be practical about it. The pursuit of holiness is a practical pursuit. If anything, the laws in this Holiness Code (Leviticus 18—20) are practical—and no more so than here in 19:19-37.

It is clear that God desired (and demanded) that His people be practically holy. And He expects the same of you and me, who have been redeemed under the new covenant. In fact, Peter references this chapter in his first epistle when he exhorts dispersed Christians to “be holy” (1:16). God expected old covenant believers to be practically holy, and He expects new covenant believers to practice holiness as well.

In the second half of this chapter we are given additional instructions with reference to the pursuit of holiness. Many see these verses as containing miscellaneous statutes, haphazardly thrown together (by a later editor). But again, since God is orderly, I must reject such an assertion. Though I do not claim to have the final word on the why and wherefore of these laws, it seems to me that they can be broadly categorised under the following headings:

  1. Respect God’s Distinctions (vv. 19-22);
  2. Reverence God’s Dominion (vv. 23-32);
  3. Remember God’s Deliverance (vv. 33-36); and
  4. Realise God’s Demands (v. 37)

These categories are bracketed in what is termed an “inclusion” by the words found in vv. 19 and 37—“You shall keep my statutes.” In other words, these are not arbitrary laws; instead, this section is set apart to highlight some specific decrees ordained by God for His people. Tidball notes the importance of the word “statutes” or “decrees” when he writes, “When the word ‘decree’ is used it suggests a boundary that has been fixed by God in perpetuity and should not be crossed.”2 In other words, the pursuit of holiness is practically bounded by prescribed expectations.

Just how comprehensive is such a practical pursuit? “Biblical law takes less space than any modern law book and yet totally covers life. It governs not only our action, but also our words, thoughts, and attitudes.”3 That is comprehensively practical indeed. And again, this chapter makes this abundantly clear. As Tidball notes, “Here respect for social relations, environmental issues and ritual observance is all rolled into one, witnessing again to the truth that biblical holiness affects the whole of life.”4

This chapter, though very legal in nature, is in fact full of love. It is here where we find, for the first time in Scripture, the command to love your neighbour as yourself (v. 18). And this command is repeated later in v. 34. Therefore, this chapter can be legitimately divided into two sections: vv. 1-18 and vv. 19-37.

We learned previously in vv. 1-18 that love for God precedes love for our neighbour (vv. 1-10). Only when loving God is our first priority are we able to more truly and more fully love our neighbour as ourselves. And such love is practical.

In this second section of chapter 19, we once again see both love for God and love for others as our prescribed duty as God’s people.

It needs to be pointed out early on that once again we face a passage that seems both arcane and haphazard. But as I have maintained throughout our studies, since God is orderly, we have every reason to be confident that there is a reason for the way these ordinances are revealed. God has His reasons and it is our privileged responsibility to try and discern His mind in what He has revealed.

Not all of the particulars of these laws will be applicable to new covenant believers, yet the fundamental principles will indeed be so. I will seek to make this distinction as we progress through the chapter. As Wenham notes, “The detailed application of these imperatives may change from age to age, but the fundamental principles of holy living remain unaltered.”5

Respect God’s Distinctions

We learn, in the first place, that there is need to respect God’s distinctions.

You shall keep My statutes. You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you. Whoever lies carnally with a woman who is betrothed to a man as a concubine, and who has not at all been redeemed nor given her freedom, for this there shall be scourging; but they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. And he shall bring his trespass offering to the LORD, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, a ram as a trespass offering. The priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed. And the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him.

(Leviticus 19:19-22)

Distinctions in Animals, Seeds and Garments

The first decrees revealed by God to all the children of Israel (vv. 1-2) are a revelation with reference to two realities. The first is that God created this world in such a way that there are distinctions in nature, which are to be recognised and respected. We see this in v. 19. The second reality is that, with the entrance of sin, holiness demands that we make distinctions with reference to violations of God’s rules. We see this in verses 20-22. Let me explain.

The word “holy” speaks fundamentally of separation. God’s command to His people to be holy is that they are to be separate from the worldview of those who did not belong to God. God’s people are, by their new nature, to so live that they will naturally be different in their thoughts, attitudes and actions from those who do not share the same nature. That is, they will live according to God’s rules and according to how He has ordered life—from creation.

The historical creation account as recorded in Genesis 1—2 reveals very distinct works of God. Each day, God created that which was distinct from what He created on the other days. And the distinctions are highlighted by such words as “God divided the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4). That is, by God’s creative design and decree, there is a distinction between light and darkness. The same was true with day and night as God “called” each by a different name (Genesis 1:5).

Genesis 1:7 reveals that God “divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament.” He then divided the dry land from the oceans (Genesis 1:9).

When it came to that which reproduces, we read “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind” (Genesis 1:11). Again “So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind” (Genesis 1:21). Further, “God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind” (Genesis 1:25). It should be noted that after each distinctive act of creation, God declared it to be “good.” God’s distinctions are good for the world and are therefore to be respected. Holiness recognises this and honours God’s distinctions.

God expected His people to submit to Him as the Lord their God in all areas. If they would be holy as He is holy, then they would recognise, respect and therefore submit to the way in which He ordered the universe. Those things that He deemed distinct would remain distinct rather than being mixed together.

This law recognises God’s diversity in the created world. It also recognises God’s sovereign right to decree that such diversity be respected. He begins by forbidding the inter-mating of different kinds of animals. I am neither a zoologist nor a biologist, but this verse makes it very clear that interbreeding is not God’s design for the world.

Consider the well-known illustration of the mule. A mule is the offspring of male donkey and a female horse. Horses and donkeys are different species, and this interbreeding has left mules incapable of producing offspring.6 It is not the way that God intended it to be, and unfruitfulness has been the result.

I recently spent time with a friend in another part of our country, who farms Nguni cows. He was telling me about some alarm that has arisen in Europe recently over the fact that antibiotics are proving to be less effective in humans that they ought to be. Part of the reason for this, he explained, was the beef that people are eating.

He explained that cattle are being fed a combination of animal and plant products, which is, of course, not what God intended. Because cattle were not designed by God to feed on animal products, they are not digesting the food as they ought to, and the result is that they are developing infections. To combat these infections, farmers are pumping the cows full of antibiotics, so that people are consuming quantities of antibiotics along with their meat. The result is that the human body is developing immunity to antibiotics, and so, when needed, these antibiotics are proving to be ineffective—all because people are not honouring the distinction that God made in the beginning.

God placed distinctions in this world for a purpose, and when man begins to blur those distinctions, serious problems can result.

God also decreed that fields were to be sown with homogenous seeds and that two different species of seed were not to share the same soil. Certain plants might well rob others of nutrients in the soil, and God wanted to protect His people from this.

He further stipulated that garments were not to be manufactured with different threads. Since the garments of the priests did in fact use two types of material it seems clear that the law was forbidding the use of diverse threads in the same warp and woof of a piece of cloth. To have, for instance, threads of cotton and wool in the same garment would result in a weakened piece of clothing due to different shrinkage when a garment was washed. Some have also argued that to have a piece of clothing that utilised different kinds of threads would also be less comfortable. Isn’t it interesting that, even in our day, one hundred percent cotton is a selling point in garments—at least in terms of comfort.

It must be pointed out that nowhere, either here or in parallel laws, are we given the exact reason for these statutes. But this may be precisely the point. You see, since God is the Creator, we should simply respect His revealed distinctions and trust Him that His law is good—whether we understand it or not.

It should be noted that with all of our technological advancement, genetically modified foods and increased cross-breeding of animals and plant life is beginning to have some alarming implications for humanity. It would seem that the blurring of distinctions is resulting in the weakening of our health and welfare.

My sister is currently doing some research into the effects of genetic engineering in food. When I last saw her, she was relating the findings of her research in such a way that I almost felt it necessary to fast for a few days. The increase in ADHD and various types of cancer may well be linked to genetic engineering in our food products. Researchers are now beginning to see the dangers in mixing plant and animal products in our food; God understood the dangers centuries ago when He gave these laws to Moses.

In summary, listen to Rushdoony, who with great insight notes, “These laws forbid the blurring of God-created distinctions. The nature and direction of sin is to blur and finally erase all the God-ordained boundaries. Man’s original sin (Gen. 3:5) was and is his attempt to deny and obliterate the distinction between God and man.”7

The specific laws given by God in this text may seem somewhat removed from our own day and culture, but there is one issue facing Western society today that Christians need to categorise in their thinking under the same principle of separation or distinction. I am speaking of the contemporary gay marriage debate, which is nothing less than ignoring God’s distinctions.

A Senator from Florida, who was previously opposed to gay marriage, recently shifted his position. A CNN political blog speaks of his recent endorsement of same-sex marriage.

His statement to The Tampa Bay Times quoted the Declaration of Independence and asked, “If we are endowed by our Creator with rights, then why shouldn’t those be attainable by Gays and Lesbians?”

“Simply put, if the Lord made homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, why should I discriminate against their civil marriage? I shouldn’t, and I won’t,” he wrote.8

I appreciated the reply of someone in the comments section: “The Lord made both humans and animals, why should I discriminate against their civil marriage?” Good point!

Dr. Ben Carson, renowned neurosurgeon and Harvard Professor, recently made his thoughts on the issue public.

“Well, my thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA [paedophiles], be they people who believe in bestiality. It doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition. So, it’s not something that is against gays, it’s against anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society. It has significant ramifications.”9

Dr. Carson was mercilessly attacked by the Media and the liberal left for equating homosexuality with paedophilia and bestiality. But his statement with reference to marriage is absolutely right. And as for his (unintentional?) association of homosexuality with such sexual perversion as paedophilia and bestiality, he has no need to apologise. The fact of the matter is that when God’s boundaries of sexuality are crossed in one area, it becomes easier (due to our depravity) to cross more and more of them. There is not as large a moral and behavioural chasm between homosexuality and bestiality and paedophilia as many suppose!

Of course a major issue that arises with this law is whether the new covenant believer is bound strictly to this law. For example, is it sinful to wear garments that have a mixture of threads in them? Is it sinful to breed different types of dogs?

Let me briefly speak to three considerations in this regard.

First, we should not jump too hastily to dismiss this law, based on the supposition that such laws were fulfilled in Christ. This may indeed be the case, but let’s do our exegetical homework before making such a claim. After all, since God is all wise we had best be careful before dismissing such laws. To do so may in fact be detrimental to our wellbeing.

Second, it has been argued, with good exegetical basis, that such laws as those of v. 19 were related with particular reference to Israel being set apart from all other nations, and therefore God simply wanted for them to be noticeably different in how they dressed and how they farmed. Since these laws were land-related laws, it is indeed possible that they were temporary until the day that the wall of separation was once-for-all removed by the redemptive work of Christ (see Ephesians 2—3). If this is true then, the new covenant believer is not bound by such laws. However, it should be made clear that there is nothing in this text which would categorise these laws as “ceremonial” and therefore fulfilled in Christ and done away.

Third, there is some translation debate in this text. For example, it has been argued, rather persuasively, that with reference to the animals (v. 19), a better translation is “do not make your animals fall down with an unequal yoke.” This would parallel the statute in Deuteronomy 22:10, which reads, “Do not plough with an ox and a donkey yoked together.” Such a law guarded animals from being treated with cruelty.

If this is the right understanding, then this law in Leviticus would be a means of protecting the abuse of domesticated animals. They were not to be unequally yoked with another kind of animal for it would create unnecessary hardship. God made animals for distinctive purposes and to violate these distinctions can be both cruel and unproductive. Paul picks us on this very theme in 1 Corinthians 6:16ff.

In short, though this may sound archaic in our day and age, we should be very careful about dismissing these laws as abrogated. After all, if God has initiated distinctions in nature then we tamper with them to our impoverishment and perhaps even to our peril.

Distinctions in Judgement

The next law that recognises a distinction is even more problematic. In vv. 20-22 we have the law that prescribes how the community is to respond to a sexual offence: “Whoever lies carnally with a woman who is betrothed to a man as a concubine, and who has not at all been redeemed nor given her freedom, for this there shall be scourging; but they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. And he shall bring his trespass offering to the LORD, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, a ram as a trespass offering. The priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed. And the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him.”

In this case, a man slept with a woman who was promised to another man. Normally in such cases, both were put to death, for they are deemed to be guilty of adultery. But this case was different, because the woman was a slave of another. (“Slave,” as in the ESV, is a more correct translation than “concubine.”) Since she had not yet been declared free, she was treated differently under the law than was a free woman.

Levitical Misogyny

Some have seen this law as another instance of misogyny, but to do so is to completely miss the point. In fact, this law was given to protect the woman who was a slave. Because she was a slave, she was more vulnerable (at the hands of the hard-hearted), but she also had less responsibility and therefore was less culpable. In the words of Rushdoony, “The bondmaid had a place in the family, however temporary, and thus was not something to be used. Her status was legally protected. . . . In the case of the bondmaid, diminished freedom means diminished responsibility on her part.”10 Or as Allen Ross notes, “This law shows that not only free Israelites were regarded and protected, but vulnerable slave girls as well.”11

It is interesting that, in such a case, the man was responsible to bring a trespass offering to the tabernacle but nothing is said of the woman doing so. Again, the man was held responsible more so than the woman. Further, in keeping with this offering, he needed to make reparations (financially) to the one to whom she was promised in marriage.

Wicked or Weak?

A word needs to be said here about the sexual sin itself. To sleep together outside of marriage is a sin. That is a given. Nothing about this law justifies the sin of fornication. However, because Israel, like us, was surrounded by (and part of) a sin-cursed world, this law dealt with damage control rather than with the sin itself. The punishment clearly points to this being a sinful act, but the law itself had more to do with protecting the vulnerable slave.

But what does this have to do with respecting God’s distinctions? The distinction is not, as some argue, about status as much as it is about making distinctions in judgement and punishment in the midst of such a sin-cursed world. It is a law that is tinged with mercy. God is teaching His people to make distinctions between weakness and wickedness. And this is a distinction that we need to make as well.

To be sure, sin is iniquitous and wicked. But there is a difference between presumptuously sinning and sin that arises from pressure. It would seem that God recognises this distinction in a sin-cursed world—and we should as well. “Certain situations were tolerated because a perfect, ideal society did not exist and this law encourages respect for what belongs to others and restrains those who would take unfair advantage of other people’s rights.”12

The elders of our church meet, ordinarily, on a biweekly basis, and one of the items on the agenda is always “struggling and wandering sheep.” In our discussion, we almost weekly make the distinction between members who appear to be defiantly weak, and those who are simply struggling. We try to be merciful in our judgement, as well we should be.

In fact, the apostle John seems to have recognised this distinction when he wrote in 1 John 5:16-17 of sins leading to death and others sins not leading to death. He recognised that all sin is sin, but he was eager to point out that some sins were, in fact, worse than others.

Reverence God’s Dominion

The second broad principle in our text is a reverence for God’s dominion. We read of this in vv. 23-32:

When you come into the land, and have planted all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as uncircumcised. Three years it shall be as uncircumcised to you. It shall not be eaten. But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the LORD. And in the fifth year you may eat its fruit, that it may yield to you its increase: I am the LORD your God.

You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor shall you practice divination or soothsaying. You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.

Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry, and the land become full of wickedness.

You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the LORD.

Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.

You shall rise before the grey headed and honour the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD.

(Leviticus 19:23-32)

In this passage we have what, on the surface, may appear to be a list of unrelated decrees, but they do in fact share the common theme of recognising God’s sovereignty over all things. These laws therefore have everything to do with reverencing God as having dominion in all of life.

Responsible Stewardship

First, in vv. 23-25, God deals with the subject of responsible stewardship: “When you come into the land, and have planted all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as uncircumcised. Three years it shall be as uncircumcised to you. It shall not be eaten. But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the LORD. And in the fifth year you may eat its fruit, that it may yield to you its increase: I am the LORD your God.”

This law looked forward, as it viewed Israel one day living in the land. When they came to the Promised Land, they would plant trees for food and God stipulated when they would be permitted to benefit from their orchards.

For three years the fruit was to be rendered forbidden, or as our translation literally reads, “uncircumcised.” Eveson explains that this phrase “is literally, ‘You shall foreskin its foreskin with its fruit,’ which suggests plucking the buds before the fruit has formed.”13 So, as the bud appeared in the first three years, it was to be pinched off. This process of pruning would be immediately costly but ultimately satisfying.

In the fourth year, the luscious fruit would appear and it was all to be offered to God. It was to be given as praise to the Lord (v. 24). God, quite literally, was to be given the firstfruits.

This law clearly was aimed at teaching God’s people that He is the one who gives food and that the land on which they dwelt was ultimately His. “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness” (Psalm 24:1). God’s people needed to learn to trust Him for their provision, and one of the surest ways to do so was to give to Him first. As Kellogg remarks, “It teaches us as in all analogous cases, that God is always to be served before ourselves.”14

Stewardship requires faith, and this law would serve as a major lesson towards this end. For those who patiently waited on the Lord, evidenced by obedience to this law, blessings would abound. Not only would they learn that God indeed can be trusted to meet their needs, but they would also learn that the best things come to those who faithfully wait on Him. As Rushdoony insightfully observes, “Faithfulness to this law means no loss at all; in the fifth year, the harvest will, by its abundance, reward the faithful one.”14

Let us learn from this to trust the Lord, practically, by tithing to Him—of our firstfruits. He will bless you as you do so (Proverbs 3:9-10; Malachi 3:10-12).

Rejecting Superstition

Verses 26-28 give instructions with regard to rejecting superstition. They may seem rather quaint to us at first blush, but a proper understanding of the historical setting will help us understand them better.

You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor shall you practice divination or soothsaying. You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.

(Leviticus 19:26-28)

These particular laws do not forbid men from getting haircuts, nor are they carte blanche laws against tattoos. Instead, they are in a context of pagan practices that were steeped in superstition. The pagans of ancient days, as with the new paganism of our own day, believed that the world is ruled by spirit beings and that these spirits must be appeased or propitiated. These laws were a means to oppose such blasphemous nonsense, while at the same time honouring God as the sovereign Lord who has dominion over all of life’s issues—including death.

In v. 26 we once again are confronted with a prohibition to not eat blood. The translation may be “to eat over blood,” which pictured the pagan practice of partaking of food while blood was dripped on you. This was supposed to have the effect of propitiating the evil spirits so one could be safe from their anger.

It was also thought that to do so was a means of reading the future or of receiving some information about the present—hence “divination” and “soothsaying.”

While the superstition of our day may be somewhat less flagrant, it still exists—both within the church and without.

My sister-in-law tells the story of a woman she once discipled. This woman was a new convert, and very superstitious. My sister-in-law spent much time trying to disciple her into the philosophy of God’s sovereignty and to help her understand the unbiblical nature of superstition. She appeared to be making much ground. Eventually, the discipleship relationship reached the point where my sister-in-law believed that she had finally come to understand the issues.

One day, this woman was scheduled to fly somewhere, and knowing that she had a great fear of flying, my sister-in-law called her to wish her well. She asked this woman how she was feeling about the flight, to which she replied, “Oh, I feel great: I’ve packed my lucky Bible!”

Since God is the one who needs to be propitiated, and since He has done so through His appointed sacrifice (His Son), such actions are an affront to Him. Further, since He is the one who is in control of all that happens, such superstitious rites must be dealt a death blow.

Verses 27-28 address the pagan superstitions of rituals for the dead. Again, the children of Israel belonged to Yahweh, and since He both gives and takes life all superstitions about mourning for the dead are to be put away.

Such pagan practices as indicated here were faithless and hopeless rituals with reference to death. But those who know God through Christ have no reason for hopelessness when mourning. They need not fear some evil spirit. They know that, when death comes, the deceased is in the hand of God and that the just God will do righteously. Let all faithless superstition be repented of. As Harrison points out, “Bereavement must be accepted as part of God’s will for the individual’s life, and no attempt must be made to propitiate the deceased in any way.”16 Believers mourn differently than unbelievers. They mourn with faith and with hope. Praise God for the gospel!

Respecting the Sacred

Verses 29-30, I believe, form a unit and are not completely disconnected from verses 26-28.

Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry, and the land become full of wickedness.

You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the LORD.

(Leviticus 19:29-30)

In the ancient world, prostitution played a significant role in pagan religion. Where there is corrupt worship there is more often than not a perversion of the gift of human sexuality. This is no less true in our day than it was in the days of ancient Israel. This is probably the context here in these verses.

Desperate times often call forth desperate measures. Perhaps a family was poor and, due to superstition, was persuaded to offer a daughter as a temple prostitute so that the spirits would be persuaded to help the family. God’s people, of course, were forbidden to do so. To behave in such a blasphemous way was to deny God as their Lord.

It is interesting that Ezekiel couples the same themes as Leviticus 19:29-30: “For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. They have committed adultery with their idols, and even sacrificed their sons whom they bore to Me, passing them through the fire, to devour them. Moreover they have done this to Me: They have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and profaned My Sabbaths. For after they had slain their children for their idols, on the same day they came into My sanctuary to profane it; and indeed thus they have done in the midst of My house” (Ezekiel 23:37-39).

Sexual debauchery and the denial of God’s rule are closely associated throughout Scripture, and this helps us to understand the state of affairs in the world today (see Romans 1:1:20ff). It ought to come as no surprise that lack of reverence for God in the West today has been accompanied by a rise in sexual sin.

Verse 30 seems to be out of sync with what has been addressed in this section but on the contrary, it substantiates the interpretation that this whole section deals with the warning to avoid superstition, to avoid false religion. In many ways, v. 30 is a solution to the problems detailed above.

If fathers would guard their daughters from the seductions associated with false religion then the Sabbath and the sanctuary must have priority. If households would avoid the satanic superstitions that abounded in Canaan then the Sabbath and the sanctuary must be honoured. And the same holds true in our day.

If we will avoid the idolatry and the false worship that abound in our day then we need to guard the fourth commandment. We must guard the prioritising of the new covenant sanctuary, the local church. How we worship ultimately affects whom we worship. Don’t treat the Lord’s Day and His church lightly. Use these gifts to strengthen your faith.

Avoiding Witchcraft

Verse 31 takes us back, as it were, to the subject matter addressed in verses 26-28: “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.”

Here, we find prohibitions against seeking the aid of mediums17 and those who claim to be familiar with evil spirits. (One very stark example of disobedience to this law can be found in 1 Samuel 28.) The reason that the Israelites were to have nothing to do with them was because “I am the LORD your God.” And since He has sovereign dominion over all, it was disloyal to seek the help of fraudulent usurpers. If one ignored this law then they would defile themselves; they would be spiritually unclean and on the road to ruin.

Again, we are no strangers to such “mediums” in our day. Far too much weight is given to astrology, fortune tellers and even televised mediums who are able to impress people with their tricks.

Respecting the Elderly

Verse 32 may appear to be a completely different subject matter but there is an intimate connection to what has been revealed before. I think that Tidball is spot on when he comments, “The contrast is not a matter of traditional versus progressive societies, so much as a matter of biblical holiness versus unprincipled arrogance. Where the elderly are not a treasured resource of wisdom, society is soon likely to decay.”18

You see, the reason that we are to respect our elders is because this reflects God’s order. This has reference to the fifth commandment.

God has priority in time and this is one reason why He has dominion over us. Those who are older than us also have priority in experience and we are to honour them as such. Although it is true that not all of the grey-headed are equally respectable, nevertheless it is also clear that God’s people are to show them due respect (1 Timothy 5:1-5). A refusal to reverence the elderly is tantamount to a refusal to reverence the Lord. Learn to honour the distinction between young and old will go a long way towards reordering an otherwise pagan society. In fact this is a prophesied fruit of the gospel (Malachi 4:4-6)!

In our church, our youth pastor, by deliberate appointment, is an older, family man. I have written of this elsewhere,19 but I am convinced that too many youth pastors are in fact too youthful.

Remember God’s Deliverance

The third major section of our text, found in vv. 33-36, speaks of the need for Israel (and us) to remember God’s deliverance.

And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

You shall do no injustice in judgement, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

(Leviticus 19:33-36)

God here reveals His decree concerning how He defines holiness with reference to His people’s treatment of strangers, as well holiness in the marketplace. In fact, as I think we will see, the two issues are related.

Love Your Strange Neighbour

The word used in this passage for “stranger” speaks of what we might call a “resident alien”—people such as myself, an American living in South Africa.

A resident alien is one who has come to live in another country (for any of a number of reasons) and who makes that country their home. There is always a sense within themselves that they do not belong. The Lord here prescribed that His people were to reflect God’s holiness by helping the stranger to stop feeling like a stranger; they were to help the resident alien to feel like they did belong.

I can attest to the fact that resident aliens always feel, in some ways, like an outsider. I have lived in South African for more than twenty years, and I still tangibly feel like an outsider when talking to people. I have a habit, when people ask me where I am from (once they have heard my accent), to say that I am from Alberton. I normally have to then explain that I am originally from America, but it at least makes the point that I am here to stay.

Despite the length of time that I have lived here, I always feel wherever I go in the country like something of an outsider. The only place I feel completely at home is in the church, because the truth is, in the fellowship of believers, we are all strangers in this world.

As Vasholz says, “The stranger is not just to be tolerated, but loved.”20 This admonition applies to the new covenant church as much as it did to the old covenant people of God. In fact, it applies even more so.

The Lord Jesus often emphasised loving strangers. The writer to the Hebrews raised the issue (Hebrews 13:2) and it is required of elders, as well as any who desires to serve the Lord (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9). Jesus taught us that, when we throw a banquet, we are not only to invite those to whom we are close but also the most vulnerable and the usually most neglected (Luke 14:12-14).

Holiness is practical. Biblical holiness requires that we move outside of ourselves and that we consider others. How are you doing with this? Are you leaving your comfort zone to help others to be more comfortable?

But what was it that was to motivate such love of strangers? It was their redemption. They were to remember that, at one time, they had been wrongfully treated. They were once enslaved but God in His grace had delivered them.

They were to remember that there was a time when they did not belong to a nation, when they were in Egypt. And as strangers, they were abused and mistreated. They were to remember how this felt and then to put themselves in the sandals of those who would be strangers in their land. They were to reflect on the grace of God then to be gracious to others.

The New Testament says the same to you and me. In fact, we are to remember that we are even now strangers and pilgrims in this world. As we reflect on this reality, because of our redemption by Christ, we are to respond in grace to others.

Justice in the Marketplace

The passage comes to a close with a final statute (vv. 35-36) commanding the children of Israel to fairness and justice in the marketplace. But contextually, it seems that this may have particular reference to one’s dealings with the stranger. Historically, no doubt, it is true that such people are often taken advantage of by locals, and the reference once again to God redeeming Israel from the unjust Egyptians (v. 36) justifies understanding this in this way.

There is a couple in our church who went to Zimbabwe on their honeymoon. At the time, the currency in Zimbabwe was still the Zimbabwean dollar. While they were there, they met a man who offered to exchange South African rands for Zimbabwean dollars for them. Needing the dollars and impressed with the exchange rate being offered, they made the deal. When they arrived later that day at a petrol station to fill up, they were told that they had, in fact, been given Zambian kwacha instead, which was useless to them in Zimbabwe. Clearly, the man had recognised foreigners who did not know the lay of the land, and had taken advantage of them.

The nation of Israel was to be holy in its dealings with those whom many would be tempted to take advantage of.

Of course, this practical matter of holiness is no less true in our day. And we who have been redeemed from our slavery to sin, self and to the satanic world system must remember that we are to live like we have been redeemed. We are to have pity on the disadvantaged and are to seek to give the advantage of justice to all with whom we have contact. Anything less is practically unholy.

Realise God’s Demands

Finally, there is a call for us to realise God’s demands: “Therefore you shall observe all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them: I am the LORD” (v. 37).

The concluding words of this section (and chapter) are both a prescription and a promise. If we obey them then we will experiences life (18:5). As Harrison has observed, “Obedience to the divine will is the key to blessing in life.”21

These words are also ominous. They are troubling, to those who are honest with the depth of what these laws demand. Consider once again Rushdoony’s wise words, cited already above: “Biblical law takes less space than any modern law book and yet totally covers life. It governs not only our action, but also our words, thoughts, and attitudes.” Who then can really keep all of these statutes and judgements? Who can truly perform them? I certainly can’t, and I don’t know anyone who can—except, of course, for the Lord Jesus Christ.

This chapter is law. And law is good and righteous and holy. The problem is that I am not and you are not. So how can we be practically holy? The answer is that we can be positionally holy. And if you are in Christ then this chapter will serve to motivate you rather than to condemn you.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

(Romans 8:1-4)

We conclude with the words of Eveson: “May the Lord help us all to please this God, who has rescued us from slavery to sin and Satan, to become slaves of God, presenting ourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness, for without holiness no one will see the Lord.”22

In other words, may God help us to be practically holy.

Show 22 footnotes

  1. Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 269-70.
  2. Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus: Free to Be Holy (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005), 241.
  3. Rousas John Rushdoony, Leviticus: Commentaries on the Pentateuch (Vallecito: Ross House Books, 2005), 245.
  4. Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 242.
  5. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, 275.
  6. There is no known instance of a male mule siring offspring, though female mules, on very rare occasions, have given birth to viable offspring when mated with purebred horses or donkeys.
  7. Rushdoony, Leviticus, 230.
  8. CNN Political Unit, “Sen. Nelson endorses same-sex marriage,” http://goo.gl/NRTPA, retrieved 7 April 2013.
  9. David Weigel, “Be They Gays, Be They NAMBLA, Be They People Who Believe in Bestiality,” http://goo.gl/QYRcU, retrieved 7 April 2013.
  10. Rushdoony, Leviticus, 231-32.
  11. Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 363.
  12. Philip H. Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness: The Book of Leviticus Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2007), 262.
  13. Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness, 262.
  14. Rushdoony, Leviticus, 238.
  15. Rushdoony, Leviticus, 238.
  16. R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 201.
  17. The word used here is universally translated as “ventriloquist” in the Septuagint. Ventriloquism as we know it, for entertainment purposes, is not forbidden, but the word gives the idea of someone who deliberately tries to deceive another by use of his gift. Mediums, biblically speaking, are deceivers.
  18. Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 244.
  19. Doug Van Meter, “The Need for a Generation Gap,” http://goo.gl/i8cOh, retrieved 7 April 2013.
  20. Robert I. Vasholz, Leviticus: A Mentor Commentary (Ross-shire: Mentor, 2007), 234.
  21. Rushdoony, Leviticus, 249.
  22. Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness, 268.