March 2

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible

Reading schedule

Matthew 19:23-30; Romans 1:8-17; Psalm 52; Leviticus 18-19

Leviticus 17-26 has been called the Holiness Code because of the call to be holy because the Lord our God is holy (Leviticus 19:2). What follows in Leviticus 19 rewords and reorders the Ten Commandments and applies them to specific issues. The chapter has several sections which each conclude with ‘I am the Lord,’ an abbreviated reminder of the overall basis for obedience: ‘I am the Lord your God Who is holy.’ The holiness of God is revealed in his nature, such as compassion and love, which people are to emulate. But God’s holiness is also distinct, revealing how far short humans fall from attaining God’s holy standard.

Leviticus 18 prohibits various sexual practices, while chapter 19 commands the people of God to do various things, beginning with revering one’s mother and father (v. 3). This points to the high honour to be shown parents, with the passage later generalising this to respecting the elderly (v. 32). The chapter uses the original agricultural context to highlight the importance of taking care of others. Community is strongly emphasised, and protection of the underprivileged stressed. They were not to gather up every grain of the harvest so that something was left for the poor to gather. We could apply the same principle to our own budgets so that we do not spend to the limit of our credit in order to have enough to give to those who are less well off.

Stealing from and lying to others are obviously wrong, but there is a sensitivity to others’ vulnerability in verse 13. There may be nothing obviously wrong with holding someone’s wages overnight, unless we think about the implications for that person. If we delay paying our bills, others may not be able to feed their family. Sensitivity to others is highlighted in ruling out exploitation of the deaf and blind. The deaf will not hear themselves being cursed, yet they are nonetheless wronged. Defenceless persons should not to be taken advantage of. The blind will become aware of the stumbling block when they fall over it, and such humiliation is wrong. When we set up others to fail or be hurt, we do not love them as we should.

One implication of looking to God as the ethical standard is that all people stand equal before God. Each of us is equally valuable in God’s eyes and should be treated as such. We should not show people preference because of either their poverty or their riches. Yet each of us falls so far short of God’s standard that we should not view ourselves as any better than anyone else. This is the essence of treating everyone fairly.

Verse 16 is challenging to translate, using Hebrew verbs that mean ‘to go about’ and ‘to stand over’. In this way, the verse addresses actively harming your neighbour with words and standing idly by when a neighbour is hurt. Such indirect harming of others is also addressed in the next two phrases. Hating someone within our hearts is wrong, and so too is failing to confront others when we know they are hurting others.

The all-encompassing call to love others in summarised in the well-known aphorism to love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). This overarching view was unique in the ancient Near East. Better known as the Golden Rule, it was reiterated by Jesus (Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27). While the phrase literally refers to ‘sons of your own people,’ Jesus showed that it applied to enemies also (Luke 10:25-37). Even in Leviticus 19:34, it is repeated for the stranger living among them. Grounded in the Old Testament’s view of God and his holiness, it highlights the high value God gives humans and the high expectations for how humans should treat one another. This must be kept in mind as we move on to address some of the stranger and more controversial laws and regulations in other chapters of the Old Testament.

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