Leviticus 19-20

Good morning! Today’s reading of chapters 19-20 continues what’s called the “holiness code” in Leviticus. Yesterday’s reflection ran long, so let me keep this one to the point.

Leviticus 19 especially uses the repeated refrain: “You shall be holy.” This emphasizes what Cheryl DeBower said yesterday, that the people are instructed to be “holy”, which is to say “set apart” from the commonplace and everyday practices of other communities of the time. This whole section of the law code is given so as to help the people define themselves against other peoples. Note the various morality instructions and prohibitions given here, many of them different variations on the Ten Commandments. I’m thankful for the impulse that part of being holy is to care for others, especially those who might not be able to care for themselves. Verse 19:18 is where Jesus and others who come after get the eternal phrase, “love your neighbor as yourself”. Many of the instructions here continue to be important to people of faith (though we don’t regard them as essential to salvation in the same way). Other provisions seem superstitious and unintelligible now, such as those against planting a field with two kinds of crops, or making a garment of multiple materials. Overall in this chapter, we see a concern for the poor and those who might be left out or left behind. The repeated refrain, “I am the Lord,” is a reminder of why the people follow all these commands—they’re proof of loyalty to the Lord God of the Hebrews.

Chapter 20 sets out various penalties for violations of the holiness code, many of them capital punishment. The opening emphasis against child sacrifice “to Molech” suggests how prevalent this was in the time of Leviticus, and the humanitarian advance possibly represented by the Hebrew laws. One likewise wonders what was happening in the broader culture to cause the detailed concern for modesty among women in the family. Verses 23-24 confirm that these commands are given as a way of marking the Hebrew people as separate from other (sinful) nations, and justifying their later violent expulsion from the land of Canaan. More on that to come, but for now: happy reading!

Read Leviticus 19-20.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Leviticus 21-23. Thanks for reading!

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