SynopsisThis chapter is a grab-bag of laws that the Israelites were to obey. As with the previous chapter, it opens with a summary:
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’” (verses 1–2)
There doesn’t seem to be a general theme to the laws given in this chapter. It’s just a big pile of rules, many of which are repeated, from earlier chapters.
- They were to respect their mothers and fathers.
- They were to observe the Sabbaths.
- They were not to “turn to” nor make idols (verse 4)
- Fellowship offerings were to be sacrificed in such a way that they would be accepted by the LORD:
- They were to be eaten the day they were sacrificed, or the next day. Anything left over after that was to be burned up.
- Anything eaten after that would be “impure,” and would not be accepted (verse 7). If someone ate part of the offering after the second day, that person was to be cut off from the Israelites.
- When harvesting their crops, the Israelites were not to reap right to the very edges of the field—nor “gather the gleanings” (verse 9), although I don’t know what that means—and once they had reaped their harvest, they were not to go back over a second time, to get what they had missed. Anything left over was to be for the poor and the alien.
- They were not to steal
- They were not to lie or deceive one another
- They were not to swear falsely by God’s name.
- They were not to defraud or rob anyone
- They were not to hold back the wages of a hired man overnight
- They were not to “curse the deaf” or “put a stumbling block in front of the blind” (verse 14).
For example, suppose a priest tells a woman that if she sleeps with him, it will make her holy. Since the priest knows the law, and the woman doesn’t, would that be considered “putting a stumbling block in front of the blind?” Or, perhaps, these rules are just literal; if you know a blind person, don’t throw something in front of him, when he’s walking, to make him fall down! The subtext, from looking at the verse, is that you shouldn’t mistreat someone just because they’re blind—whether literally or metaphorically—because God is watching:
Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD. (verse 14)
If you “fear God,” you won’t take advantage of the deaf or blind.
- They were not to “pervert justice” (verse 15).
- It is explicitly mentioned that they were not to “show partiality to the poor,” nor “favouritism to the great.”
- They were not to spread slander.
- The Israelites were not to do anything that would endanger someone else’s life.
- The Israelites were not to keep angry feelings to themselves, and when someone needed “rebuking,” they were to do it face to face. (“Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” (verse 17))
- The Israelites were not to seek revenge, or bear grudges.
- This rule includes the famous phrase “love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 18), which Christians know so well from the New Testament. (In Matthew 22:34–40, Jesus quoted this as being the second most important commandment in the Old Testament. The most important was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”)
- The Israelites were not to mate different kinds of animals, plant different types of seed in the same field, or wear clothing woven from two different kinds of material.
Keep my decrees.
Do not mate different kinds of animals.
Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
This had some kind of meaning for the Israelites, I just don’t know what it was.
- If a man slept with a slave girl, and that slave girl was “promised to” (verse 20) another man, but the slave girl had not yet been ransomed or given her freedom, the man who slept with her was to be punished.
- However, because the girl was still a slave, and had not been freed, they were not to be put to death.
- The man who slept with her was to bring a ram to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting as a guilt offering.
But I think the thinking behind this law—and I fully realize that it’s always dangerous to try and put yourself in the LORD’s place, as if you know what He was thinking—might have been something like this: If the man to whom the girl was promised really loved her, he would have freed her. The fact that he didn’t means that he was still considering her to be his property, instead of giving her the full rights of a wife. (And, in this light, I’m glad that the girl wouldn’t have to be put to death for this!) In this sense, the man who slept with her wasn’t so much committing adultery with her, as he was “stealing” another man’s “property.” As much as I don’t like thinking in those terms, in society in which the Israelites lived, where slaves were a more accepted part of the culture, the laws had to take that into account. “You don’t want to give the girl who’s promised to you her freedom? Fine, then if she sleeps with someone else, it won’t be considered adultery.”
- When the Israelites reached the land which had been promised to them, if they planted a fruit tree, they were not to eat its fruit immediately.
- For the first three years, after the tree was planted, they were to consider its fruit “forbidden” (verse 23). The footnote indicates that the Hebrew word translated “forbidden” is actually, literally, “uncircumcised.”
- In the fourth year, the fruit from the tree was to be considered holy—an offering of praise to the LORD.
- Starting in the fifth year, they were allowed to eat the fruit from the tree.
- They were not to eat meat with blood still in it.
- They were not to practice “divination” or “sorcery” (verse 26b).
- They were not to cut the hair at the sides of their head, or clip the edges of their beard.
- They were not to cut their bodies for the dead, or put tattoo marks on themselves.
- They were not to make their daughters into prostitutes.
- They were to observe the LORD’s Sabbaths, and have reverence for His sanctuary.
- They were not to turn to mediums or spiritists.
- They were to rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for their elders, and revere the LORD.
- They were not to mistreat aliens living among them; aliens were to be treated the same as a native-born Israelite.
- They were not to use dishonest weights and measures.
The chapter ends with another summary:
Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the LORD. (verse 37)
ThoughtsI often think of the New Testament “way of living” to be harder than the Old Testament way of living, in a sense, because when Jesus told people how to live, they had to not only act good, but be good. For example, in Matthew 5:27–28 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’” The Israelites already knew that they weren’t allowed to commit adultery, but Jesus pointed out to them that, even if they weren’t guilty of the act, they could still be guilty of the sin. (In fact, reading the New Testament, we realize that it’s impossible to live a life that would be pleasing to God, which is why Jesus’ sacrifice was required, on our behalf.)
But when I read rules like the ones in this chapter, where the Israelites were not to seek revenge or even bear grudges, and that they were not to hate one another, it reminds me that Jesus wasn’t changing the laws, in his sermon on the mount. He was simply reminding them what the laws had meant all along: The Israelites were to be Holy, as God is Holy. If they were able to keep that up, it would have meant that every aspect of their lives would have to be monitored, and sin erased.