Leviticus is not only relevant as it theologically establishes the precedent for grace, but the book is incredibly practical in the way it explains all the many ways God’s grace changes everything! The truth is the presence of God in the midst of our lives should yield a natural effect on the way we live and interact with the world around us!
This morning we’re going to work our way through Leviticus 19 verse-by-verse. What will be different is that I’m going to attempt to illustrate something about this text sitting just below the surface absolutely radicle. We’ll see if you can pick up on it before we get to the end…
Leviticus 19:1-3, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and keep My Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God.’”
Following a lengthy set of dietary restrictions, Leviticus 11:44 records God’s first use of this refrain, “You shall be holy; for I am holy.” Now as chapter 19 begins we again find God exhorting His people to “be holy.” Please don’t overlook the significance of this…
One of the core traps people fall into when approaching a chapter like this is to see these directives as a list of commands we need to “do” as opposed to being a description of what God intended His people to “be.” God isn’t commanding His people do something. Instead, He’s describing what their lives should look like in light of their relationship established on His grace.
The first characteristic of a child of God living in light of His grace is that you’ll “revere your mother and father.” The idea behind this word “revere” spoke of an attitude a person who’d experienced God’s grace was to have towards their mom and dad. Paul would write in Ephesians 6:2-3, “‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’”
Up front I understand for many of you the relationship you have with your parents is complicated. For others it’s down right toxic. While this verse doesn’t mean you have to obey your parents, because they gave you life a measure of reverence is appropriate.
In this verse God also says a person experiencing His grace will “keep His Sabbaths.” Beginning in creation God established the precedent of the “Sabbath” when, following six days of work, He rested on the seventh. God’s work was completed. He and the man “made into His image” were free to enjoy life as it was always meant to be enjoyed.
And yet, following man’s sin in the Garden on this holy day, God’s Sabbath rest ended as He immediately went back to work in order to bring forth His plan of redemption.
While there is no doubt the Creator knew the emotional and physical importance of human beings resting every seventh day — it was part of His design, the idea behind man taking a day to cease from his work and rest possessed an even deeper religious purpose. Jesus would say in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”
“Keeping” this day of rest was man’s way of acknowledging the reality there was nothing he could do to restore God’s Sabbath. The life God meant for him to enjoy on the seventh day could only be restored through God’s work apart from his involvement.
“So Pastor Zach are you saying I have to keep the Sabbath?” Sadly, such a question completely misses the point. Grace doesn’t mandate you keep the Sabbath Day. Instead, it motivates you to take a Sabbath. “Should I” transitions into “why wouldn’t I!”
In our fast-passed world there is a practical benefit to setting aside one day in seven to rest physically and recharge emotionally. And yet, the greatest benefit of a Sabbath is that it helps a person adjust their eyes from the temporal onto the eternal. It’s why the Jews began Sabbath at the Synagogue. One day a week all work ceased, routines stopped, the community gathered to worship, and then spent the rest of the day with their families.
While the traditional Sabbath ended following the resurrection of Jesus (God’s finally rest restored), the early church leaders still recognized the importance of setting aside one day a week to re-center spiritually, worship corporately, and reflect on the incredible goodness of God. I cannot emphasize enough the spiritual benefits that will be yielded in your life if you simply prioritize coming to church with your family once a week on Sunday morning!
Leviticus 19:4, “Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods: I am the Lord your God.” It’s worth noting God is referring here to two types of “idols” — those we adopt that already exist and those we actually “mold” and “make for ourselves.” If you don’t believe this is still a relevant admonishment, in 1 John 5:21 and 1 Corinthians 10:14 New Testament believers are commanded to “keep yourselves from idols” and “flee idolatry.”
In His book “Counterfeit gods” pastor and author Timothy Keller defines idolatry “as anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” He adds, “Idolatry then is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God.” In laymen’s terms an idol is anything or anyone you give a preeminent position in your life to over Jesus.
What’s intriguing about this command to avoid idolatry is that it’s being given by God to His chosen people. Consider that! How is it that a God-fearing believer could possibly “turn to idol” worship? It’s not an accident this particular mandate follows God’s exhortation to keep His Sabbath. You see one intends to safeguard you from the other.
Here’s the truth… Gods exist to save people from hell. If your perspective remains on the eternal, Jesus is the only God that makes any rational sense. And yet, if your life gets wrapped up in worldly things, counterfeit gods (idols) are quick to emerge.
For example… If poor finances, debt and the instability that results becomes the most pressing issue in your life (hell), how quickly a job or career becomes your idol. If health or body issues dominate (hell), it’s not a surprise you’ll grow consumed with a diet or gym. If loneliness is your hell, a relationship will take a preeminent position in your life. The key to idolatry is to always keep your perspective on the eternal and not the temporal.
Leviticus 19:5-8, “And if you offer a sacrifice of a peace offering to the Lord, you shall offer it of your own free will. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and on the next day. And if any remains until the third day, it shall be burned in the fire. And if it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination. It shall not be accepted. Therefore everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned the hallowed offering of the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from his people.” (This is basically a condensed version of the same stipulations recorded for us in Leviticus 7:11-21.)
Leviticus 19:9-10, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God.”
Fundamentally, any person who’s experienced God’s grace should naturally possess a heart of love and compassion towards those less fortunate. Within Israel the welfare system was designed so that “the poor and the stranger” were able to “glean” in a field or vineyard after the harvest. Following the shearers, it was legal and permissible for a person to walk behind and collect necessary provisions from whatever was leftover. Unlike our society, the poor was required to work if they wanted to eat. There were no free handouts.
Connected with this provision God goes on the record explaining what the attitude should be of the haves towards the have nots. If you fully understood and recognized the entire increase of that years harvest existed because of the grace of God, it would only be natural that you’d “cut corners” leaving sections of the field for the poor as well as taking only one pass through the vineyard leaving an ample supply of grapes leftover. You weren’t stingy.
My friend, I hope you know there is a direct correlation between one’s faith in God’s provisions and understanding of His grace and that person’s charity. It’s simply a truth that greater faith always leads to greater generosity. In fact, Jesus said, “Where a man’s treasure lies there will his heart lie also.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… It’s not how much of your money you give, but how much of God’s money you keep for yourself.
While grace doesn’t demand you give, grace should motive you to be generous! In 2 Corinthians 9:7 Paul will write, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver (literally a hilarious giver).”
Leviticus 19:11-12, “You shall not steal (or take something by force), nor deal falsely (feign obedience or deceive), nor lie to one another (communicate a deliberate falsehood). And you shall not swear by My name falsely (base an oath on God’s name and fail to follow through), nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.”
In Matthew 5:33-37 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne… But let your Yes be Yes, and your No, No.”
In the Hebrew this word “profane” doesn’t mean to take the Lord’s name in vain as we tend to view it. More broadly the word means to make common that which isn’t. The idea being articulated in light of God’s grace is that our desire should be to live a life that isn’t common — like everyone else, but lived in such a way that “the name of our God” is magnified.
In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus said of His disciples, “You are the light of the world… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” In Acts 10 God says to Peter, “What I’ve cleansed you must not call common!”
Leviticus 19:13, “You shall not cheat your neighbor (intentionally defraud him), nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning.” Basically, if someone has worked for you with the expectation of a certain wage, it’s simply inconsistent with the grace you’ve received from God for you to then withhold a man’s pay.
Leviticus 19:14, “You shall not curse the deaf (view them as if they’re insignificant or of little value), nor put a stumbling block before the blind (act in such a way that would cause them unnecessary harm), but shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” Again, knowing that apart from God’s goodness we could just as easily find ourselves in such a terrible condition, our heart towards the handicapped should be that of love and compassion.
If Jesus demonstrated anything His heart towards the physically afflicted was evident. In Matthews 11:5 Jesus came that “the blind may see and the lame walk; the lepers cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
Leviticus 19:15, “You shall do no injustice in judgment (judge fairly). You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” When it comes to your decision-making never forget God’s grace places all men onto equal footing. As such it’s unjust to show “partiality towards the poor” simply because they’re poor or to “honor the mighty” because they might be influential.
In Luke 14:12-14 Jesus would say, “When you give a dinner, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Leviticus 19:16, “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people (one who bears tales or is a gossip about other people); nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor (bear false-witness if called to testify): I am the Lord.”
In my studies of this chapter Jon Courson made an astute observation about the effects of gossip. He says three people are always hurt: (1) The person you’re gossiping about because you taint their reputation. (2) Yourself because you become known as a gossip. (3) Gossip hurts the person you’re talking too because your poisoning their perspectives. It’s been said, “Great minds talk about ideas. Good minds talk about events. But small minds talk about people.” Friend, if a person gossips to you they likely gossip about you!
Jesus cautions in Matthew 12:34-37, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Leviticus 19:17, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.” Simply put… God’s love should make it impossible to “hate” another. 1 John 3:15, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” When you’re harmed God says to go to that person privately and deal with it instead of harboring resentment.
Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
“Taking vengeance” upon another is dangerous because at some point every victim has also been a perpetrator. Additionally, “bearing a grudge” only infects a victim with a cancer that will ultimately destroy them. In Matthew 5:38-39 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
According to God, the only possible mechanism for healing is to love. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself!” Notice the word “love” is in the active tense implying motion. Instead of lashing out with “vengeance” or “bearing any grudge” our response should be to demonstrate kindness and show love irregardless of how we’ve been treated.
In Matthew 5:43-44 Jesus carries this idea one step further by defining how we’re to love. He says, “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
Leviticus 19:19, “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.”
In order to understand what God is saying in this verse keep in mind the stated context… “You shall keep My statutes.” It would seem the reference of “livestock breeding with another kind, sowing your field with mixed seed,” or “mixing linen and wool in a garment” was God’s way of illustrating a much larger principle central to “keeping His statutes.”
In order to live such a life that upholds His statutes we must avoid the mixture of that which undermines purity. My friend, God’s grace is not the starting point by which we progress into greater realities. Grace is the only point! If your motivation for “keeping His statutes” is anything but Grace Alone (Grace, And or Grace, But) failure will always result.
Jesus would caution as to the dangers of compromise in Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” In 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 Paul says, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?”
This line “nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you” is profound when you consider “linen” was the garments of the priests while “wool” was worn by the worker. Illustratively God is prohibiting the mixing of His righteousness with our works!
Leviticus 19:20-22, “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 (which according to the next chapter was the standard penalty for adultery), because she was not free.
And he (the guilty party) 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.”
This situation begins with a man “lying carnally with a woman.” While the English appears to describe adultery motivated by carnal desires, this Hebrew word “lies” is actually the same word God uses in His prohibition of homosexuality. With that in mind, it seems this man genuinely falls in love with this woman and ends up sleeping with her hoping to marry her.
Sadly, there were two problems… First, she’s a “concubine who has not at all been redeemed nor given her freedom.” To be fair this word “concubine” would be better translated as maid-servant. While she was an employee of the man, the fact she hadn’t “been redeemed nor given her freedom” implies her servitude was required. Though her actions were reciprocal to a degree, his authority over her complicated matters.
Secondly, we’re also told this woman was “betrothed to another man.” In Hebrew culture this meant she was legally married, but had yet to consummate the relationship. Though adultery was a death penalty, because she was still a virgin a measure of grace was given.
We’re told on account she was under his authority “for this there shall be scourging.” Not only is this the only place in the entire Bible this Hebrew word is used, but it simply means compensation or punishment. More in likely because the man took advantage of his position the punishment resulted in her debt being satisfied so that she was now free to do as she wished. Additionally, he also had to come and offer “a ram as a trespass offering.”
What does this tell us? While there are moral matters that are clearly black and white (adultery with your neighbor’s wife was one of them), when you wade into the more complicated gray issues (a betrothed woman) it’s always wise to error on the side of grace.
Legally or not Jesus would add in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Leviticus 19:23-25, “When you come into the land, and have planted all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as uncircumcised (unharvested). 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.”
Practically, we understand there is a tangible benefit of a few years of pruning before harvesting the fruit of a tree. I called a friend this week who is an arborist to talk about this very issue and he affirmed the wisdom of these verses. Wait till the “fifth year” for fruit!
Pertaining to grace — there is no question God is illustrating a much larger principle that Jesus builds off when He talks about knowing a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). Spiritually mature and useful fruit takes time to develop in a person’s life. Not only does this highlight the importance of patience, but it tells us we shouldn’t judge a person prematurely.
Leviticus 19:26-28, “You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor shall you practice divination (fortunetelling) or soothsaying (observing times or astrology). 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.” The context for these things was the pagan customs of mourning for the dead or idol worship. An example would be Elijah and the prophets of Baal.
Leviticus 19:29, “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.” This word “prostitute” means to make common and the word translated “to cause her to be a harlot” refers to fornication. The idea is that God is calling upon fathers to hold their daughters to a holy standard of modesty so that the larger societal framework doesn’t fall into decadence.
Leviticus 19:30-31, “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.” In the context of raising daughters in a Godly way we again find the exhortation to prioritize incorporating spiritual things into the life of a family — while at the same time keeping demonic and worldly influences at bay.
Leviticus 19:32, “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord.” In much the same way children were to honor their parents, society should have an esteem for its seniors and their experiences. It’s sad our “Ok Boomer” culture has quickly abandoned this particular ideal. Within the church there should always be a great portion of respect shown towards our seasoned siblings.
Leviticus 19:33-34, “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him (to oppress or treat violently). The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you (treated as a native Israelite), and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
God is addressing the attitude the Israelites were to have towards “the stranger” who came seeking to “dwell among them.” Based upon their experiences as foreigners dwelling in Egypt, they were to treat people much differently. In Egypt they’d been abused, but in Israel the stranger was to be cared for — “You shall not mistreat him.” In Egypt they’d been segregated, but in Israel they were to be assimilated — “Be as one born among you.”
While there is no doubt immigrants and refugees were to be treated with love and compassion in Israel, it’s equally true the “strangers” ability to remain in the land was predicated upon a few key things: (1) You had to reject your former identity by becoming a Hebrew — circumcision was included. (2) You had to reject your former religion and culture by fully assimilating into Hebrew society — embrace religious and social customs. (3) You had to obey all of the laws that governed the new nation you decided to join.
We shouldn’t forget… Over and over again in the New Testament we see believers encouraged “not to neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” In Matthew 25 Jesus even goes so far as to equate the way we treat the “least of these” to the way we treat Him.
Leviticus 19:35-37, “You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin (business deals were to be fair and above reproach — amazingly one of the greatest outburst of Jesus came as a response to the moneychangers): I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them: I am the Lord.”
If you weren’t able to feel the undercurrent of the text let me quickly recap the themes of this chapter and see if you can pick it up… Leviticus 19 covers: Being holy, honoring parents, keeping the Sabbath, idolatry, compassion towards the poor, being generous with our harvest, stealing, deceiving others, lying, swearing on God’s name falsely, taking God’s name in vain, paying employees, kindness towards the deaf and blind, showing no partiality in judgment, not gossiping, bearing false witness, hating your brother, loving your neighbor, not mixing those things that should remain pure, grace towards sexual sin, how to judge a tree and fruit, avoiding the occult, respecting the elderly, treating the stranger with dignity and kindness, and conducting business honestly.
Amazingly, the case can be made the description of a holy life found in Leviticus 19 is identical to the one established for the Christian in the New Testament! Again and again you’ll find the same themes re-emerging. In fact, I’m convinced Leviticus 19 (God’s Sermon from the Tent) laid the foundation for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Chapter 19 begins “be holy” — Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the Be Attitudes!
One of the grand accusations levied at the Old Testament is how it presents God as possessing such a heavy hand. What’s fascinating is how Jesus and the New Testament authors constantly take Leviticus 19 one step further. You shall love your neighbor… I say love your enemies. You shall not hate your brother… I say do good to those who hate you and pray for them. You shall not murder… Don’t be angry. You shall not commit adultery… Don’t lust. Leave the corner of the field for those lacking… To the Rich Young Ruler Jesus will encourage him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor.
In Matthew 5:17 Jesus didn’t come to contrast the Law or do away with these mandates. Instead, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” The problem Jesus had with the religious leaders was that they’d failed to understand what the Law was all about. The Law wasn’t rules for them to obey, but a description of the very people God intended to make them into!
In the context of everything we’ve been discussing about God taking this group of people and creating them into a separate and holy nation, it’s not an accident the chapter closes with Genesis language. This word “you shall observe” is the same we find in Genesis 2:15, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.”
Aside from this the word we have “and perform them” is also foundational to the Creation narrative… Genesis 1:11-12, “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth’; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the tree that yields fruit. And God saw that it was good.”
You see the idea God is articulating is that the attitudes and actions described in this passage would be yielded by God in their lives as long as they tended to His Word.
What a wonderful promise considering holiness is not something any man can manifest within himself. You can’t do holiness you must be made holy — which is what God is promising His people He would accomplish in them. In the same way God brought forth vegetation from the earth He’d make them holy people if they remained rooted in His Word.
One of the grand debates surrounding Leviticus is how much of it we as New Testament Christians should be doing… To this I’d simply say we’re to do none of it, but embody all of it! Something that can only happen when Jesus dwells in our midst through His Spirit and works out His grace in our lives through the transformative power of His Word. My friend, grace is not the beginning of something. It ends in the revelation of Someone!
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