If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 19, Psalms 23–24, Ecclesiastes 2, 1 Timothy 4. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Leviticus 19.
Leviticus 19 contains a large number of commands on various topics. The passage begins with a call for God’s people to emulate his character: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”’” Every command in this chapter flows from the holiness of God. Those who desire to know God must also desire to become holy; this chapter gives some specific ways in which holiness works out in the life of a believer. Being “holy” simply means “set apart.” God is set apart from humanity in two ways: First, he is Creator and we are the created. There is a distinction between the Creator and creature that we can never cross. As Creator, God has certain qualities that we can’t understand, much less emulate. These are things like knowing all things, having all power, being everywhere present in the fullness of his being, and others. These are qualities that only God can have; they are one way in which God is holy.
Usually, though, when we talk about God’s holiness, we are talking about his moral perfection. God is set apart from people in the sense that he is perfect morally. He has no sinful desires or actions. God did intend us to emulate this quality. Adam and Eve began with a perfect moral nature; if they had refused the temptation offered to them in the garden, humanity would have existed in moral holiness just as God did. Since we chose to sin, however, we are unholy. In Christ we are declared to be holy and God’s Holy Spirit is working us over morally so that we become more holy like Jesus was, but it is an ongoing process that does not reach completion until we see Christ.
When God commanded Israel to be holy (v. 2), he was commanding them to set themselves apart from the nations around them. This required faith that living according to God’s commands would be better than living according to their natural moral instincts, the ways that were common to the other nations around them. Many of the commands here in Leviticus 19 are easily understood as categories of holiness—either moral holiness, such as “no idols” in verse 4 or cultural holiness, such as “do not mate two different kinds of animals” in verse 19. But what do you make of the command, “do not reap to the very edges of your field… leave them for the poor and the foreigner”? In what way does this command flow from the holiness of God?
The answer is this: God affirmed the righteousness of private property rights in verse 11a: “Do not steal.” This command tells us that people have a right to private ownership and that it is morally wrong to take, either by force or by deception, any property that justly belongs to someone else. Our capitalist system is built on private property rights. Not only do you have the right to own productive assets (land, flocks, tools, trucks, factories, whatever), you have the right to use those assets in ways that are productive. And, you have the right, morally speaking, to keep the product of that production. That’s why people were allowed to own land, farm land, and harvest what they have planted.
However, God wanted his people to show generosity to the poor. Unlike other nations where the poor had to beg, borrow, or steal to live, God affirmed the right of his people to private property and to the cultivation of wealth but he also wanted them to be different from the nations around them by generously providing for the poor. Leaving food in the fields for poor people to reap on their own without fear of being killed or prosecuted for trespassing showed love and compassion for the poor. Instead of selfishly gathering every bit of profit, God commanded his people to be productive but also to provide a means for those who were poor to live. This kind of love for one’s poor neighbor would set apart his people from the nations around them. It should also mark us, his people by faith, today. We should be generous to the poor—regardless of why they are poor-because we want to live a holy life that emulates God. That doesn’t mean that we have to support every (or any) government program. After all, the people were commanded to leave the grain out there, not to hand over 40% of what they reaped to the central government. But it does mean that we should do what we can personally to help anyone within our reach to meet their daily needs for survival. This goes against our instincts to watch out for ourselves alone; that is an expression of holiness because it sets us apart from people who despise the poor and even take advantage of them. This is why we as a church have a food pantry and why we leave money in our budget for benevolence. Being holy, like God is, means loving and showing kindness and help to the poor people nearby us.
Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.