Servants' News

February 1996

Oh, How I Love Your Law!
Part Four

"Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, With the statutes and judgements. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse." —Malachi 4:4-6

The above passage is clearly set in the time of the end—"the great and dreadful day of the Lord." We are to remember the laws that the Eternal gave to Moses. While our Savior fulfilled the sacrificial portions of this law, the need for us to understand the wonderful principles involved is greater than ever.

The last three articles in this series dealt with the laws found in Exodus 20 through 23. This article will examine the principles in Leviticus 19. If people believe that the Old Testament law contains only "do's and don'ts", and says nothing about attitudes, they need to read this chapter. The law is holy (Rom 7:12). It was the "stony heart" of the people that prevented them from keeping the law and needed to be changed (Ezk 11:17-21).

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. Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods: I am the Lord your God'" (Lev 19:1-4).

This is a very concise summary of what is required to be "holy." It is not emphasized in traditional Christian literature because it contains a reference to the Sabbaths. We see here a summary of three of the "ten commandments" (or "ten words" as it is in Hebrew). We are to love the Eternal (spiritual), to love our parents (physical), and to keep the Sabbath (take physical time to learn spiritual things). We should not start down the path to false religion; we should not make "molded gods"—even if we do not worship them.

"And if you offer a sacrifice of 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" (Lev 19:5-8).

While we do not offer "peace offerings," we can learn a great deal about serving the Eternal from the old covenant peace offering (details are in Leviticus 3). The peace offering was to be completely voluntary—no one could command another to do it. The offering could be cattle, sheep or goats, and either male or female—whatever the offeror had or could afford. The priests assisted in removing and burning the inedible parts, but the offeror was free to eat of it on the first and second day. Before refrigeration, cooked meat would spoil after a few days and the Eternal did not want any upset stomachs or sickness associated with offerings to Him.

Similarly, when we serve the Eternal in some way today, we personally should make the decision to do it. We have a wide variety of services to pick from, but we should choose something that we can do and that fits within the constraints the Bible imposes. Finally, we should not make our service to the Eternal offensive—by doing something that would leave a "bad taste" in another's mouth.

"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" (Lev 19:9-10).

Some people have mistakenly believed that the Old Testament system for taking care of the poor was handled through a third-tithe paid in the third year (Deut 14:28-29, 26:12). While this tithe was certainly intended to help the poor "get back on their feet" in the third year, it obviously could not be the main sustenance of the poor. If a person becomes poor in the "first year," does he get nothing to eat until the third year? The verses quoted above and others like them show that the poor were to be taken care of in ways other than through third tithe. They were invited to share in the harvest of the others by gathering the gleanings—those fruits that would require the most time to pick. It would be enough to feed the poor, but difficult enough that they would be motivated to not stay poor.

Our modern welfare and assistance systems tend to give cash to the poor with no work involved at all. This writer has often seen people buying expensive convenience foods with food stamps—foods that I could not afford to purchase for my family on a regular basis. If our modern assistance systems provided "gleanings" (food that was imperfect but edible) from supermarkets to the poor, we might find many more people desiring to get off of the welfare rolls.

"You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another" (Lev 19:11).

More of the "ten commandments" are stated here. We see a command to not "deal falsely" as well as to not lie. What is the difference between the two? For example, a man may say to his neighbor, "If you let me use your oxen to plow my field today, I'll give you an axe." If, after he finishes plowing, he says "I did not say when I would give you the axe—I will instruct my family to give it to you the day I die," he has not lied. He has "dealt falsely" and deceived his neighbor who thought he should receive the axe right away as payment.

"And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord [I am YHVH]" (Lev 19:12).

Even though lying and false dealing are forbidden, a special curse is pronounced on those that swear falsely by His name (Zech 5:3-4). Our Savior taught that we should always tell the truth and not "swear" at all (Matt 5:33-37, Jms 5:12). But in the old covenant, largely unconverted Israelites were encouraged to swear truthfully by His name (Deut 6:13, 10:20; Jer 12:16). Also, there are numerous commands to "call upon" or praise His name (1Chr 16:8; Pslm 99:6; 105:1; 113:1; 148:5,13; Is 12:4; Joel 2:26; Rom 15:9; Rev 15:4). Seeing all these commands to say His name, the question arises, "What is His name?"

Leviticus 19:12 answers with "Iam YHVH" (In Hebrew hwhy). The next question is how do we pronounce hwhy? In an effort to avoid the death penalty for blaspheming this name (Lev 24;16), the Jews have ceased pronouncing it. Since the original Hebrew manuscripts do not preserve all pronunciation, they do not give us a complete answer. We have received several extensive, well-researched papers, each putting forth a different pronunciation: Yahweh, Jehova, Yehova, Yehowa, Ee-ah-o-ah, etc. We hope to study this issue in much greater detail and write on it in the future.

"You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning" (Lev 19:13, NRSV).

This is a broad spiritual principle far beyond "You shall not steal." It forbids profiting from one's neighbor by any deceitful or threatening practice. It is followed up by a specific example, if a man works for you, you pay him right away—you do not work out some elaborate scheme to pay him later and benefit from interest earned on "his money."

It is amazing how much of today's advertising is devoted into tricking or defrauding people into buying something that they do not need or that is worth much less than its apparent value.

"You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord [I am YHVH]" (Lev 19:14).

This is a stern admonition to not take advantage of people's handicaps. The deaf would not know that he had been cursed and the blind would not know who put the stumbling block before him, but the Eternal would know and would take action. The same principle is found in Exodus 22:22-23 when He promises to hear the cry of the widows and fatherless.

"You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. But in righteousness you shall judge your neighbor" (Lev 19:15)

People often say, "when I get a position of authority in the Kingdom, I will certainly judge this way." But how many people, when they have little amounts of authority now, really judge this way? If a wealthy family arrives late to a crowded service, will the ushers set up a new now of chairs just for them? But if a poor family had arrived instead, might they be told to sit in the scattered empty seats that are available? Problems of this nature certainly occurred in the first century (James 2:2-5).

Even worse, this writer has seen instances where wealthy people with doctrinal differences have been allowed to continue attending a congregation where poor people with the same doctrinal differences have been cast out. Similarly, wealthy men, divorcing and remarrying, seem to gain the blessing of their congregations' leadership much faster than men that contribute little.

Our national legal systems are also full of such problems. In many cases, the man that can afford the best lawyer wins. But the reverse also happens—10 men may all commit the same trespass, but only the ones that have money to pay damages will be taken to court.

"You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord" (Lev 19:16 NKJV). "...You shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor..." (NRSV and Tanakh).

The first part of this verse is a command to not tell stories about others that we do not know are true. The subject here is justice. If everyone in a town has heard the false rumor, "John is a thief," it will be very difficult for him to get a fair trial if he is actually accused of the crime. Our modern nations face the same problem through televised coverage of crimes designed to attract a large viewing audience—not to tell the truth.

The last part of the verse condemns any contract or agreement where one party would profit by the death of someone. Our societies allow people to take out million-dollar insurance policies on spouses and other relatives with themselves as beneficiaries. How many people have been slain so someone could collect?

How many businesses are built around profiting from the death of others? How many weapons manufacturers are not simply in business to help defend their country, but to also supply their instruments of human destruction to anyone in the world that will pay the price? Have large weapons manufacturers actually encouraged other nations to go to war?

Our great Father, in his wisdom, knew that if people were allowed to profit from the deaths of others, there would be a temptation to "encourage" those deaths. He therefore forbade agreements where a person would profit from another's death.

Also, this scripture would seem to apply to profiting from the grief caused by a neighbor's death. How many undertakers grow rich convincing grieving people to spend much more than necessary on funerals? There are other businesses based on making money from the grieving. A friend once told me about a book he had read on getting rich from real estate. The book advocated reading obituary columns and offering to buy the property of the deceased. Since many older people own their homes outright and are not aware of increasing property values, they may agree to sell them in their time of grief for much less than their actual value. Such practices certainly violate the spirit of this law and the previous verses commanding that we not defraud our neighbors.

"You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him" (Lev 19:17).

Yes, it is here! An Old Testament command of how to think—not merely how to act. The latter part of the verse is essentially the same as Matthew 18:15. If we have a disagreement against someone, we should go to them about it—preventing ourselves from harboring anger and showing them their sin (if there is any).

"'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 [I am YHVH]" (Lev 19:18).

Yes, the "golden rule" is found in the Old Testament! It is later defined as "the second great commandment" (Matt 22:38-39). It comes with a command not to take vengeance or bear grudges. This single command, if obeyed with the right spirit, would bring peace to mankind.

"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" (Lev 19:19).

While whole books have been written on this and related verses, our general understanding is that the Eternal's creation should be preserved. If all cattle were allowed to randomly interbreed, the different varieties that the Eternal created would all be lost. Farmers know that when an accidental cross-breed occurs, several generations of careful breeding are required to integrate the offspring of the "half-breed" back into the primary herds. The same is true for plants.

Does this verse apply to inter-racial marriages? That is a subject of much debate. This verse may seem to indicate to some that men should not intermarry to the point where the races that the Eternal created disappear. Historically, this has not been a major problem in that people lived primarily among others of the same race and travel was restricted to the speed of man and his animals. Today, the opportunity for interracial marriage has increased many times. If we reached the point where one third of the marriages in the world were between people of different races, the racial strains as we know them would be effectively gone in 200 years.

"If a man has sexual relations with a woman who is a slave, designated for another man but not ransomed or given her freedom, an inquiry shall be held. They shall not be put to death, since she has not been freed" (Lev 19:20 NRSV).

"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" (Lev 19:21-22).

To some, this law may seem greatly unfair. But when understood with the related laws (Ex 21:7-11, 22:16-17, Deut 22:22-29), it all makes sense. When we compare it to what happens in sexually related cases in modern courtrooms, the Eternal's wisdom shines out like a bright light. See the box on page 7 for details.

"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 [shall be set apart for rejoicing in the Lord —NRSV]. And in the fifth year you may eat its fruit, that it may yield to you its increase: I am the Lord [I am YHVH] your God" (Lev 19:23-25).

The first part of this law is simply good farming practice. Fruit trees produce little the first few years and many farmers remove any fruit that sets the first few years so the trees will make bigger trunks and roots. In the fourth year, the fruit was used to give thanks for the many profitable years to come.

"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 [I am YHVH]" (Lev 19:26-28).

All those things were practices of other people in Palestine. The Eternal did not want his people to seek anything from false gods, nor did he want them to do those things just to "fit in."

"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" (Lev 19:29).

If a man was too poor to take care of his family (or so evil that he would not take care of them), he could sell his children (Ex 21:7). Hopefully, the person that bought them would take better care of them. At least the daughters would not have to work as prostitutes—something that is all too common in the Orient. This writer read a rather disgusting article about some newly formed East European nations, lacking in industry and in need of western currency. They recruited their own young women and sent them to work as prostitutes in western nations. They need this law!

"You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the Lord" (Lev 19:30).

What is this command doing in the middle of all of these prohibitions against false religion? If people would hear the law read every Sabbath and reverence the Eternal, they would not have all of the other problems described in this chapter!

"Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord [I am YHVH] your God" (Lev 19:31).

Today, our Western nations are full of astrologers, spiritualists, palm readers, psychics and many others claiming to be able to predict the world's or your personal future. This command to simply ignore them is the best advice a person could ever get about them.

"You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord [I am YHVH]" (Lev 19:32)

The practice of honoring older people has been lost in most Western nations. This does not mean that all people must obey commands from anyone substantially older than they are, but it does mean we should honor and listen to people that have lived a great many more years than we have.

"And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. But 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 [I am YHVH] your God" (Lev 19:33-34).

Another spiritual command! In verse 18, the Eternal asked us to love our neighbor (fellow Israelites) as ourselves, and here He has commanded us to love the stranger (Gentiles) as ourselves! These are commands that require the power and spirit of the Eternal to carry out.

"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:"(Lev 19:35-36a).

Businesses should be honest about what they are selling and its price! This problem is still with us—and it has been automated! A 1995 investigation of stores with electronic checkout equipment found that nearly 10 percent of daily sale items were not being properly charged to customers. In almost all cases, the charged price was higher than the advertised sale price. When the error was pointed out to store management, corrections often took many days. We still need honest scales, weights, measures, and computers!

"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" [I am YHVH]" (Lev 19:36a-37).

As the Eternal physically brought Israel out of the land of Egypt, so he desires to take each one of us out of our sins. Therefore, we should study and observe all that he tells us.

The most commonly repeated phrase in this section is, "Iam YHVH." We would like to study that more in the future—probably in a separate article.

There are still several chapters dealing with similar laws that we can apply in our lives today. We will cover them in future installments.

-Norman S. Edwards


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