“Live as Gods Just People"
Lesson Text : Leviticus 19:9-18, 33-37
Background Scripture: Leviticus 19
Leviticus 19:9-18, 33-37
9And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest.
10And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the Lord your God.
11Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.
12 And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord.
13Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.
14Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the Lord.
15Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.
16Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour; I am the Lord.
17 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.
18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.
33 And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.
34But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
35Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure.
36Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.
37Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the Lord.
To know and understand how God wishes His people to live.
As God’s people we must be compassionate, fair, and honest.
Be obedient to God.
What Do We Owe?
For most people, it is inappropriate to attempt payment for a gift given generously with no thought of reciprocity. But an attempt may be made anyway if the original recipient doesn’t want to feel “indebted” (compare Luke 14:12).
For Christians, the sin-debt we owed has been paid by Christ, and it is wrong for us to try to figure out what God wants from us in return payment for the salvation He has granted us. To the psalmist’s question, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?” (Psalm 116:12) we must answer, “Nothing!” God is not like us. He neither wants nor expects repayment. Even so, we are called to do good works (Ephesians 2:10); we render those good works to Him in gratitude because we have been saved, not as repayment for having been saved. In this way, we become people who show and teach the world what God has done for us.
But this imperative is not unique to the New Testament era. God has always expected the behavior of His people to reflect His nature. That’s what today’s lesson is about. Our service to God cannot be reduced to a spiritual ceremony. It must take the form of a life ordered in every way according to His justice.
TIME: 1446 B.C.
The background to last week’s lesson is no different from this one. Thus that information need not be repeated here. However, we can point out a noteworthy difference between last week’s Scripture of Exodus 23 and this week’s passage from Leviticus 19. The latter makes use of a literary device that helps us both outline the passage and learn why Old Testament Israel was called to God’s particular way. This device is the repetition of the phrases “I am the Lord” and “I am the Lord your God.” Together, these two phrases occur 15 times over a space of 37 verses in Leviticus 19.
Although these same lines are used elsewhere in Leviticus, they stand out in Leviticus 19 by how often they are used. The significance of these phrases is stated at the beginning of Leviticus 19, where the Lord instructs Moses by saying, “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2; quoted in 1 Peter 1:16). God called Israel to live a particular way of life because that life reflects His holiness.
We should not think of the imitation to which God calls His people as some kind of divine ego management. Though imitation may be the highest form of flattery among humans, God is not like us in this regard. He wants us to imitate His holiness because we are in His image and because this imitation is what is best for us. To live in accord with God’s nature is to live with the grain of the universe rather than constantly fighting against it.
Showing Concern for One Another (Leviticus 19:9-18)
1. What laws did God set forth for Israel during harvest? Why? (Leviticus 19:9,10)
Verses 9 and 10 shift the focus from eating fellowship offering (vs. 5-8) to those times in the agricultural season when the Israelites harvested their crops. The Lord, through Moses, commanded the chosen people not to cut all the grain from the corners of their fields. Additionally, they were prohibited from picking up what the harvesters dropped. The reference here is to gleaning. This was the process of going back over a field, orchard, or vineyard after the main harvest to gather every last bit of produce. The law prohibited landowners from gleaning their lands. Instead, the poor and the foreigner were given the privilege of gathering whatever the harvesters had missed. By instituting a law related to gleaning, God showed His concern for the impoverished and the alien (see Deut. 23:4-5; 24:1.9-22).
Therefore, our obligation to God cannot be separated from our obligation to one another. Thus the Israelites are called to the rather mundane practice of sharing food. In ancient Israel as today, people fall on hard times for various reasons. Some make poor choices that cost them their possessions. Others are stricken with a natural disaster that leaves them with little more than the shirts on their backs. Still others suffer the loss of the family breadwinner (compare Ruth 1:3-5). So God states how the Israelites are to help out.
God's concern for the poor and needy is seen in the "harvest laws" (Lev. 19:9-10; see 23:22; Deut. 23:24-25; 24:19-22; Ruth 2).
What Do You Think?
Under what circumstances, if any, should churches require those in need to do some work in order to receive assistance from the church? Why?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
-2 Thessalonians 3:6-12
2. Why should Christians be honest? (Leviticus 19:11)
God also calls the people to honest dealings. The prohibitions we see here apply to a wide variety of exchanges: selling and bartering goods, negotiating property lines, settling conflict at the town gate, etc. Even today, the biblical prohibition against theft is one that should affect our lives. For instance, how honestly do we file our tax return? Do we ever take home supplies provided only for office use? Do we ever loaf on the job? All such activities-amounting to forms of stealing-are encompassed in Leviticus 19:11.
Lying and stealing are usually very straightforward issues, easy to define (compare Exodus 20:15, 16). But to deal falsely can be a little slippery, and it’s easy to rationalize in this area. Think about how we communicate “how busy we are” to avoid commitments to serve. Think about how we deal with (or avoid dealing with) issues that divide us. We could say that putting on a front that pretends such conflict doesn’t exist is to “deal falsely.”
Christ did not say that God’s people will never have conflict and will never struggle to agree (Matthew 18:15-17; Acts 15:36-41). Christ has shown us better ways of dealing with conflicts and disagreements. If God’s people cannot be forthright with one another, why should the world think Christ’s truth is uniquely mediated through us?
What Do You Think?
Does the requirement not to lie or deal falsely mean that brutal honesty is the only alternative? Why, or why not?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
-The issue of tact (Daniel 2:8-19)
-The issue of Rahab’s deceit (Joshua 2)
3. Why is God’s name worthy of respect for Israel, and for Christians today? (Leviticus 19:12)
Leviticus 19:12 forbids God’s chosen people from using His name to swear a falsehood. Otherwise, the transgressors would be guilty of putting shame on God’s name, who declared Himself to be the eternal, sovereign Lord. Similarly, Exodus 20:7 and Deuteronomy forbid the Israelites from misusing the name of the Lord, especially for insincere or frivolous purposes. Using God’s name in an oath when there was no intention of keeping it was one way to infringe on this commandment. More generally, the Israelites were never to use the Lord’s name for evil purposes.
To not profane the name of thy God means more than not using it as a swear word. It also means not using God’s name to endorse human agendas. The world will continue to toss God’s name around carelessly for rhetorical effect. But God’s people must stand out as those who so honor God that we invoke His name only when we sincerely mean it (Romans 2:24; 2 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Timothy 6:1).
The name of the Lord is sacred and must never be used blasphemously or in an oath that the person has no intention of fulfilling. This is the import of the third commandment (Exod. 20:7). If we fear the Lord, we'll respect His name and sincerely pray, "Hallowed be Thy name" (Matt. 6:9).
4. What guidelines does God set forth for employers when it comes to them paying their workers? (Leviticus 19:13)
Workers in the ancient world typically are paid on a daily basis. Thus to withhold a worker’s pay all night until the morning is mistreatment. In ancient times, it was easier for employers to mistreat employees since government oversight was not what it is today. Mistreatment happens when employers underpay (or simply don’t pay) workers, when employers lie about the agreed upon compensation, etc. Genesis 29-31 tells us how Laban deceived and mistreated Jacob, his own relative, when Jacob was in Laban’s employ. In a world full of Labans, Jacob’s descendants are called to be a witness to God’s justice when it comes to labor (compare Jeremiah 22:13).
God’s concern for the poor and needy is seen in the regulation about wages (Lev. 19:13). Since workers were paid daily, any delay would cause hardship (Deut. 24:14-15; James 5:4), and employers must never take advantage of their employees.
The fact that fraud against workers still exists in New Testament times (James 5:4) indicates a continuing problem. Jesus repeats the imperative “defraud not” in Mark 10:19.
5. How should we as Christians treat individuals with disabilities? (Leviticus 19:14)
Israel is called to respect the dignity of those with disabilities. In ancient Israel, the disadvantaged included the deaf and the blind. Unlike today, though, people with these disabilities were severely hampered from earning a living and often had to resort to begging (see John 9:1, 8). Leviticus 19:14 forbid the Israelites from treating the marginalized in a degrading manner. Think of what an act of cowardice it is to curse to their face those who cannot hear the curse or to place obstacles before those who cannot see! Yet some find perverse pleasure in doing so. This happens not only to those who are physically impaired, but also to those who may be thought of as figuratively blind or deaf—naïve people who end up being easy targets of those with more education or more experience.
This passage implies that taking advantage of people reveals no fear of God on the part of the perpetrator. Those who truly fear the Lord know that He sees everything and that He calls every deed into account. They know that He calls His people to honor Him by treating the disabled with the dignity they possess in God’s sight. If they cannot treat with respect those whom they can see, how can they respect God, whom they cannot see (1 John 4:20)?
Jesus healed the blind and the deaf; we can't do that on our own, but we can help protect them and enable them to live better lives.
6. What are some ways you can be an example of justice and honesty to your peers? (Leviticus 19:15,16)
Last week’s lesson contained injunctions against perverting justice, either by siding with the rich or showing partiality to the destitute, especially in a matter involving a lawsuit (see Exod. 23:2-3). A similar directive appears in Leviticus 19:15 in which the Israelites were prohibited from dealing unjustly in rendering any decision. This verse reminds us that true justice is impartial. Though worldly justice is tilted toward the mighty, God’s standards are binding on all people, regardless of social or economic status. God’s ideal is a system of justice that reflects His own unbiased righteousness. Neither the poor nor the mighty are to receive preferential treatment because of their status (see last week’s lesson).
Rich and poor stand equal before God and the law, and justice must not be partial (Lev. 19:15; see Exod. 23:3), because God hears the cries of the poor when they are oppressed (Ps. 82:3-4).
The first half of this verse 16 instructs God’s people not to spread lies, and the second half indicates the reason: that by misrepresenting the truth, one can endanger another’s life. For an example of this happening, see 1 Kings 21.
James 3 reminds us that the human tongue is dangerous. God will hold us accountable not only for intentionally malicious words, but also for careless, idle words (Matthew 12:36). If the Israelites are to demonstrate God’s will in this world, they must expunge wrong speech. The life of the innocent neighbor is more important than the fleeting satisfaction of gossip or slander.
Respect for truth and for property is the foundation for a just and orderly society. The liar and talebearer (v. 16) is a menace to public safety and peace, particularly if he or she is a lying witness in court.
7. What is the one thing that should ultimately lead us to be kind to our fellow man? (Leviticus 19:17,18)
A society that shares food generously, speaks truth plainly, honors dignity routinely, and practices justice daily will be a remarkable society! Yet such a society could still fall short of God’s design if His people fail to love one another. This idea is central to the Old Testament law and is still binding on Christians today (Matthew 19:19; James 2:8). It moves beyond merely not hating one another. It moves from correcting one another’s sins (Matthew 18:15) to dropping any ill will against another, to loving the neighbor as oneself. The Israelites are called, as Christians after them, to look after the needs of their neighbors. “Neighbor love” summarizes God’s law (Romans 12:9).
“One should place no limitations upon the love for the neighbor, but instead a person should love to do an abundance of good for his fellow beings as he does for himself.” “Neighbor” does not merely mean one who lives nearby, but anyone with whom one comes in contact.
Getting along with people, especially our neighbors, isn't a matter of obeying laws but of having love in our hearts (Lev. 19:18). "Love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10). The new commandment to love one another helps us handle human relationships and treat people the way God treats us (John 13:34-35).
How to Treat Foreigners (Leviticus 19:33-36)
8. How should we as Christians treat foreigners? (Leviticus 19:33,34)
A life of submission to God is not just seen in loving one’s neighbor. It also includes being compassionate to foreigners (see Exod. 23:9). The ultimate purpose is to be God’s vehicle of blessing to all nations. But looking forward to this ideal first requires looking back. The Israelites had been foreigners in Egypt. They know firsthand what it is like to be “strangers.” God often reminded them of this (Exod. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 25:23; Deut. 10:19).
So as God brings the Israelites into the promised land, He calls them to be hospitable to the non-Israelites who choose to be part of “the congregation of Israel.” More than that, He calls them to love those strangers in the same way they love one another.
Indeed, God is also concerned for strangers in our midst today... When you consider the thousands of foreign students who attend our colleges and universities, a mission field at our doorstep, this admonition becomes even more significant.
9. How does God instruct us to handle our business transactions today? (Leviticus 19:35, 36)
Like societies today, the Israelites had business dealings among themselves and with neighboring peoples. An ephah is a dry measure, equal to about six-tenths of a bushel; a hin is a liquid measure, equal to about a gallon. A meteyard is a measuring rod. Proverbs 11:1, and 20:23 speak of God’s abhorrence of dishonest balance scales and weights.
The dishonest merchant has two sets of weights—one set that is honest and one set that is dishonest—for weighing out transactions. Sensing the stranger’s vulnerability, the crooked merchant will use the dishonest set of weights so the vulnerable person will either pay more for purchases or take less for goods sold. The Israelites may have been treated this way in Egypt. God calls the Israelites to extend the same justice to all (see Deuteronomy 25:13, 14; Proverbs 20:10, 23).
The love that God calls the Israelites to show strangers must manifest itself in concrete acts of justice. God calls for righteous measurements in economic transactions. This is love in action.
What Do You Think?
How are dishonest business transactions today similar to and different from those of the ancient world? How do we stay on guard against either perpetrating, or falling victim to clever new schemes?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
-Predatory lending practices
-The problem of rationalization
What Perspective to Have (Leviticus 19:37)
10. Why is it important for Christians to be obedient to “all” God’s laws? (Leviticus 19:37)
What the Israelites owe God is simple: they owe Him obedience. This obedience is not about earning God’s favor. It is about mission. If God’s people observe all of His laws and live out His justice, then God can use them to accomplish His mission of being a blessing to all nations.
All is the key word in this verse. God’s set of laws is not a smorgasbord of optional, pick-and-choose life principles. It is a complete way of life. It all hangs together because no part of human existence is outside of God’s jurisdiction.
We've noted that the phrase "I am the Lord your God" is repeated over forty times in Leviticus 18-26 to remind us that we belong to Him. He warns us, "Fear your God: I am the Lord" (19:32, NKJV). Note, God calls these laws "my statutes" and "my ordinances" (v. 37), that the Sabbath is "my Sabbath" (vs. 3,30) and the tabernacle is "my sanctuary" (v. 30). The law brings sinful people into the presence of a sovereign God who has every right to tell us what is right and wrong.
What Do You Think?
How can we obey God’s laws fully without becoming legalistic in the process?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
-Issues of motive (Matthew 6:5)
-Issues of the spirit of God’s law (Luke 11:42)
-The problem of equating human tradition with God’s law (Mark 7:5-13)
There are many forms of spirituality. Some focus on self as the source and destination of spiritual development. Others acknowledge a “higher power” beyond oneself, making submission to that power central to the spiritual walk. But legitimate spirituality is represented in today’s passage.
This passage acknowledges that the Lord is the one who knows best. But personal submission to God is not just about loving Him. Right relationship with God includes right relationship with others. Serving Him requires loving one another. We do for one another what God would do if He were here personally.
Lord, You have called us to a life of justice that demands more than we may prefer to give. Please soften our hearts and open our eyes. Help us see the life that You have set before us as the wonderful gift it is. Please triumph over our fears and replace them with humble obedience, which is what You require of us. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Serve God on His terms.