Exegesis on Leviticus 19

Yeah, that’s right, I had to do an exegesis on LEVITICUS! It’s just as hard as it sounds. But after much delving into books, I made it in the end, and got an HD. 😀 yay!

It’s been fixed a little bit, based on comments by my lecturer. I really need to stop making such dumb referencing errors. It’s sloppy academic writing!

Pentateuch Minor Exegesis

Pericope: Leviticus 19:1-37 (RSV)

Leviticus is a detailed guide to the requirements for right worship of God in both temple ritual and everyday life, given to Moses by God at the making of the covenant on Sinai. Its location at the centre of the Torah indicates that it was considered the heart of the Mosaic Covenant. It can be broadly divided into sections o­­n sacrifice and the priesthood, purity, and finally a holiness code, in which the pericope is located. These laws deal with “practical holiness”, that is, how to live so that one’s holiness is not only ritual, but also manifested in one’s interior attitudes and, by extension, the visible expression of those attitudes through one’s choices. This paper will argue that the author is expressing the idea that God’s people must be holy in a complete way, such that their internal relationship with God is consistent with their external actions.
Israel’s call to holiness derives from the fact that they are God’s people, and He is supremely holy.[1]That preservation of this holiness is the author’s concern of this chapter is evident in that, throughout Leviticus, the topic for most messages from God is set in the first sentence that follows, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to all the congregation of the people of Israel…’”[2],[3]It is of grave concern to God that they remain holy because without holiness, they cannot be in relationship with Him,[4]and relationship with them is what He desires,[5] so that they may be His instrument by which He eventually sanctifies the whole world, uniting humanity with Himself in heaven, in accord with His original intention for each individual.
That the author is concerned with the people remaining in God’s covenant is further manifested through the incorporation of the Ten Commandments throughout the passage. It is in these commandments that the essence of the means of remaining in the covenant is found.[6] Given that most of the commands in this pericope are also apodictic laws,[7]such that the Ten Commandments blend easily with the other commands,[8] it seems that the passage is expanding on how this covenantal relationship is to be lived out. This is seen also in the way that specific negative injunctions[9] are frequently coupled with a corresponding positive injunction,[10]helping to shape an understanding of what God-fearing behaviour should look like. The frequent refrain, “I am the Lord” reveals the reason that God doesn’t give specific consequences- Israel is expected to obey simply because these laws are given by God, which is in keeping with the fact that they are apodictic.[11]Thus God, being the Lord Almighty, and having established the means for His people to be in relationship with Him, expects that His people will respond appropriately, avoiding defilement[12]and thus remaining in that relationship.
It appears that the author thought that this preservation of holiness demanded that Israel have the proper interior dispositions, towards both Him and their fellow-man. God first and foremost insists that they worship Him alone, giving a real sense of exclusivity- He is their God,[13]and they are His people,[14]and they are to fear Him.[15]This entails rejecting all kinds of idols,[16] mediums,[17]and magic.[18]Regarding their neighbour, the Israelites are told to love not only their fellow countryman,[19]but also the sojourner as themselves,[20]and to not “hate your brother in your heart”,[21]nor “bear any grudge.”[22] Thus their fundamental attitude to God and, by extension, also to man ought to be a loving one, if they are to be holy.
The sacred writer goes on to lay out specific ways in which love ought to be manifested in daily life. Such a list, however, could never be exhaustive, and so they function as examples of the general idea: namely, that love cannot remain as a merely abstract emotion- it must also have concrete expression in actions. This elicits a particular concern for justice,[23]especially for the most vulnerable- the deaf,[24]blind,[25]poor,[26]and the sojourner.[27] Justice is tied to honesty,[28]in that it is just to pay wages that are due,[29]and to not cheat those whom one trades with.[30] The elderly are to be honoured,[31]as are one’s parents,[32]as well as the sanctity of life.[33]Most importantly, justice necessarily requires that God is given the worship due to Him. He asks them to refrain from profaning His name,[34] keep His Sabbaths, and to reverence His sanctuary.[35] Hence the incompatibility of holiness and lack of love is reaffirmed in light of the connection between love and justice.
The author includes sacrifices as an integral part of life. Their function with respect to holiness is to both reflect and reinforce man’s inner worship of God, which not only restores one to holiness when it has been lost through sin,[36]but also assists in ordering one’s life to God alone.[37]These liturgical actions must be carried out just as God directs, with severe punishment if tampered with.[38]Offerings are not only to be made in the temple, but also through self-denial of the immediate fruits of one’s crops, which is promised to result in the blessing of richer yields.[39] Therefore, the author sees no separation between the liturgy and the life of the people of Israel. They should be integrated together, which implies that holiness entails living such that one’s ritual worship, the attitudes of one’s heart, and the choices that one makes are all in harmony.
The allegorical sense recalls Christ’s perfect sacrifice, which made possible the restoration of relationship between God and all humanity, realised through sanctifying grace, which makes individuals holy by sharing in God’s divine life. The moral sense clearly reveals the necessity of loving one’s neighbour as oneself, as we are repeatedly encouraged to do, even to the point of loving one’s enemies.[40]Finally, in the anagogical sense, we see that the Church, as the new Israel, is also called to be holy,[41]and Christ has in fact already sanctified His Bride,[42]since nothing unclean can enter Heaven.[43] In conclusion, the text reveals that holiness is not a mere external appearance, nor is it only an internal attitude to God, but rather a reality that encompasses the whole person, which is  most fully expressed through true love of God and of one’s neighbour.

Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament- an Introduction (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1984)
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2ndEdition, English translation for USA (Washington, USA: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997)
Fretheim, Terence., The Pentateuch (Abingdon Press, 1996)
Hahn, Scott (ed.), Catholic Bible Dictionary(New York: Doubleday Religion, 2009)
Kleinig, John W., Leviticus (Concordia Commentary) (Concordia: St Louis, 2003)
Larsson, Goran., Bound for Freedom: The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions (Hendrickson: Peabody, 1999)
The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
Wenham, G. J., Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Pentateuch (IVP: Downers Grove, 2003)

Baltzer, Klaus, The Covenant Formulary in Old Testament, Jewish, and early Christian writings (Great Britain: Fortress Press, 1971)
Casciaro, Jose Maria (Ed.)., The Navarre Bible- Pentateuch (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999)
Freedman, David (Ed.), Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000)
Fretheim, Terence., The Pentateuch (Abingdon Press, 1996)
Hahn, Scott (ed.), Catholic Bible Dictionary(New York: Doubleday Religion, 2009)
Kleinig, John W., Leviticus (Concordia Commentary) (Concordia: St Louis, 2003)

The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Volumes 1-6), David Noel Freedman (Ed.) (London: Yale University Press, 1992)
Larsson, Goran, Bound for Freedom: The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions (Hendrickson: Peabody, 1999)
The Catholic Bible Concordance Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition C.W. Lyons and Thomas Deliduka (compilers) (Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2009)
The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
The New Jerusalem Bible Study Edition (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1994)
Wenham, G. J., Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Pentateuch (IVP: Downers Grove, 2003)

[1]Lev. 19:2; Lev. 20:26; Lev. 11:44-45 (Unless otherwise noted, all references from the Bible will be from the Revised Standard Version)
[2]Lev. 19:1-2; may also be “Say to the people of Israel”, as in Lev. 4:2
[3]For example, Lev. 11:2 reveals that what follows will be details of what can and can’t be eaten; Lev. 12:2 indicates that Lev. 12 will deal with the states of being clean or unclean with relation to a woman giving birth; Lev. 13:2 shows that the following laws will discuss the laws pertaining to how various types of disease should be regarded.
[4]Terence Fretheim, The Pentateuch, p. 134; also John Kleing, Leviticus, pp.3-4: “Since he was holy and his people were sinful, his mere presence presented a danger to them. By itself it was never neutral, for he was present with them either in life-giving grace or in deadly wrath… thus God established the ritual for the daily sacrifice to give the people safe access to him and his blessings.” In other words, the people had to be ritually clean or pure in order to be in God’s holy presence and share in his holiness. Falling into a state of uncleanness or impurity resulted in loss of one’s holiness, and one needed to become pure again. Hence, to remain holy is equivalent to remaining in relationship with God.
[5] For example, in Hos. 11:1-4, God is presented as a loving father, who called His people out of Egypt so that they might know, love and worship Him
[6]Goran Larsson, Bound for Freedom- The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions, p. 139
[7]These are laws that are “strong, dramatic demands… with an unstated, but threatening, hint that disobedience will be severely dealt with.” Their counterparts are the casuistic laws, which follow the pattern of: “if someone does this thing, then he receives this punishment.” Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, p. 185 The only two examples of casuistic laws here are Lev. 19:7-8 and Lev. 19:20-22. Lev. 19:29,31 mention consequences, rather than punishments that will be inflicted.
[8]“Blend” here refers to the fact that most commands are given in the same form, beginning with either “you shall”, or “you shall not”, so that the Ten Commandments are not made particularly distinct.
[9]Namely, “you shall not”.
[10]For example: “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge… but you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18); or “you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner.” (Lev. 19:10)
[11]Since apodictic laws, as stated above in footnote 7, are worded as though it is enough that the order has been given, and the punishments are implied rather than stated explicitly- Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, p. 185
[12]Lev. 19:31
[13]Lev. 19:3,25,31,-32,34,36
[14]Lev. 19:32; there are many occurrences of this elsewhere, such as in Ex. 6:7
[15]Lev. 19:14, 32
[17]Lev. 19:26,31
[18]Lev. 19:26,31
[20]Lev. 19:34
[21]Lev. 19:17
[22]Lev. 19:18
[23]Lev. 19:15
[24]Lev. 19:14
[25]Lev. 19:14
[26]Lev. 19:9-10
[27]Lev. 19:9-10,34
[28]Lev. 19:11- honest both in speech and in not taking what is not yours; Gordon Wenham, Exploring the Old Testament- A Guide to the Pentateuch, p.97
[29]Lev. 19:13; CCC                1807
[30]Lev. 19:35-36; Scott Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, p.951
[31]Lev. 19:32; Prov. 16:31
[32]Lev. 19:3
[33]Lev. 19:16, and Lev. 19:26 with Lev. 17:11-12
[34]Lev. 19:12
[35]Lev. 19:3,30
[36]Such as in Lev. 19:21-22
[37]Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, p.794- 797
[38]Lev. 19:5-8
[39]Lev. 23-25
[40]Mt. 5:43;  Mk. 12:31; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14;  Jas. 2:8; Furthermore, love of God and hatred of one’s brother are incompatible- 1 Jn. 4:20
[41]1 Pet. 1:15-16
[42]Eph. 5:27
[43]Rev. 21:27

One thought on “Exegesis on Leviticus 19

  1. […] and life-endangering for those who enter who are unclean. (I have some more detail on this in an essay I wrote on Leviticus.) Even more, no matter how clean one is, even Moses couldn’t see God face to face without […]

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