How to live a holy life
Get holy1 The LORD said to Moses:
2 I want you to tell this to the people of Israel:
Devote yourself to me and be holy because I am holy.
3 Respect your mother and father—every one of you. Treat the Sabbath day with respect, too. I am the LORD your God. 4 Don’t let yourself get lured into worshiping idols. And don’t make cast metal gods from clay molds. I am the LORD your God.
5 When you make a peace offering, do it right. 6 Eat the part of the meat that belongs to you. Eat it the same day, and the next if you have leftovers. But if there’s any remaining on the third day, burn it. 7 If you eat any of it on the third day, you’ll ruin the offering. It will be as though it never happened because the LORD won’t accept it. 8 Also, you’ll suffer the consequences because you trivialized something sacred and holy to the LORD. If you do this, you are no longer an Israelite. 9 When you farm the land and harvest the crops, skip over the crops on the outside edges of the property. Don’t harvest them. 10 And when you pick the grapes from your vineyards, don’t pick them all. Leave some for people in need and for immigrants and hungry travelers passing through. I am the LORD your God.
Remember the big commandments11 Don’t steal. Don’t cheat people. Don’t lie. 12 Don’t invoke my name when you make someone a promise you have no intention of keeping. Don’t drag the good name of God through your trash. I am the LORD. 13 Don’t exploit your neighbor. Don’t cheat or steal. And don’t withhold wages of someone working for you. If you owe a worker money at the end of the day, pay up.
14 Don’t be cruel enough to make fun of someone who’s deaf. And don’t trip a blind person. Show respect for your God. I am the LORD. 15 When you need to make a judgment call, be objective. Don’t play favorites—not toward the poor or the rich. Be fair about it.
16 Don’t slander people with trash talk. And don’t put them in danger of losing their lives. I am the LORD. 17 Don’t let yourself hate the people around you. If they do something wrong, confront them about it so you don’t become a part of it. 18 When one of your people does you wrong, don’t try to get even. Love your neighbor just as you love yourself. I am the LORD.
Laws of cattle breeding, sex with slave, and when to pick fruit19 These are my laws. Obey them. Don’t mate two breeds of cattle. Don’t plant a field with two kinds of seed. And don’t wear clothes made from two kinds of fabric mixed together.
20 If you have sex with another person’s slave—a female slave promised to some other man— you’ve got to be held accountable. But you shouldn’t have to die. 21 Here’s what you need to do. Bring a ram as a guilt offering to the LORD. Bring it to the tent worship center. 22 The priest will sacrifice the ram, which will atone for the your sin and put you on good terms with the LORD. You’re forgiven.
23 After you arrive in the land where I’m taking you, you’ll plant all kinds of trees. However, I’m telling you not to eat any fruit from those trees for three years. It’s forbidden fruit; don’t eat it. 24 When you pick the fruit in the fourth year, bring it to the tent worship center as an offering to the LORD. That fruit is holy because it’s reserved for the LORD. 25 Year Five is the year you can eat that fruit. Do as I’ve said and your trees will produce a lot more fruit in the years to come. I am the LORD your God.
No bloody meat, short hair, or daughter prostitutes26 Don’t eat meat that still has blood in it. Don’t use sorcery or interpret signs to predict the future. 27 Don’t trim your hair at the sides and don’t cut your beard. 28 Don’t do anything to commemorate the dead if it involves cutting your body or permanently painting yourself with tattoos. I am the LORD.
29 Don’t degrade your daughter by forcing her to make a living as a prostitute. If you do, others might agree it’s a practical idea. If that happens, there goes the neighborhood. And perhaps the country with it. 30 Respect the Sabbath laws I gave you. And respect my sanctuary, the Most Sacred Room in the tent worship center. I am the LORD.
31 Don’t use the services of mediums or anyone else who tries to communicate with spirits of the dead. They’ll dirty you up and leave you ritually unclean. I am the LORD your God. 32 Honor the older generation. Stand up out of respect when they come to you. Show God your respect, too. I am the LORD.
Treat immigrants as one of you33 When immigrants or foreigners come into your land, don’t treat it as an opportunity to exploit them and make some money off their backs.
34 Don’t think of them as foreigners. Think of them as locals—as part of you. So, love them just as you love yourself. And remember, once upon a time you were immigrants and foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
35 Don’t cheat people in business by giving them less than they bought. 36 When you weigh something to sell it, make sure your scales are accurate. A pound is a pound and a liter is liter. I am the LORD your God who snatched you out of Egypt. 37 Obey and enforce the law. All of it. I am the LORD, and don’t you forget it.
“Holy” means one thing when talking about people and another thing when talking about God. “The Holy One” is a title of God. Scholars say that when the Bible says God is holy, it’s saying there is nothing like him; he’s unique, “wholly other” scholars say, and he’s perfectly loving and just and pure. When the word “holy” describes people or sacred objects in the tent worship center, for example, it’s talking about someone or something devoted to God and reserved for him. Worship utensils such as lampstands were considered holy because they were reserved for sacred use, devoted to God. People, too, were considered holy when they devoted themselves to God and to his goodness. They wear goodness like a skin and they begin to resemble the Bible’s description of their Father: “God is love….We know God loves us. We believe it with all our hearts because God is love. Everyone who embraces a life of love embraces God, and God embraces them. Love unites them” (1 John 4:8, 16).
The Sabbath day, from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, was a sacred day of rest and worship. Even the cooks in the house got a day off because Israelites didn’t even cook on the Sabbath. They ate food prepared ahead of time (Exodus 16:22-30).
This sacrificial offering goes by various names: peace offering, fellowship offering, elevation offering, symbolic offering, special offering, and wave offering. The Hebrew word can mean to wave, lift, or blow. A peace offering, also described in Leviticus 3, is one of several prescribed offerings in Jewish tradition. When Jewish people wanted to thank God for something, such as good health or safety, they would sacrifice a sheep, goat, cow, or bull. They would burn part of the animal, including the kidneys and the fat covering the intestines. The officiating priest got to keep the breast and the right thigh, apparently as payment for their work (Leviticus 7:30-32). Those who brought the sacrifice got to eat the rest in celebration, often with family and friends. It takes a fair number of hungry people to eat a bull. But people were eager to eat meat because it was rare in Bible times for common folks to eat meat, many Bible scholars say. They had two days to finish it. But they had to burn any leftover on the third day.
More literally, the person “should be removed from the community” or “cut off.” This is a consequence repeated throughout these early books of the Bible. It’s unclear how and by whom the offenders were removed. Perhaps they could no longer worship at the tent worship center, or they lost their rights as citizens of this emerging nation that Moses seemed to be organizing. Maybe they were executed. Or perhaps the community let God deal with the person. Scholars seem uncertain about what happened.
The original Hebrew word describing the people is ger. It can mean foreigner, stranger, someone passing through, immigrant who is living among the Israelites.
The Hebrew word for neighbor is rēa.ʽ It has wide meaning. Examples: someone living near you, friend, associate, companion, lover, advisor. With the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus seemed to teach that anyone we come into contact with can be our neighbor—even if they are complete strangers (Luke 10:30-37).
It’s unclear why. One theory: What God created was pure, unadulterated, and holy. If people start messing around with it, they’re going to mess it up. Folks will end up eating beefalo and hybrid spinach—and wearing polyester.
In older lingo, the guilt offering was called the trespass offering, as in, “Forgive us our trespasses” or sins. In fact, scholars can’t seem to figure out what the difference is between a “sin offering” and a “guilt offering.” One guess is that guilt offerings are more serious and often involve making restitution. Leviticus 5:14-7:7 talks about when a person needs to make a guilt offering. Leviticus 7:1-10 talks about how to make the sacrifice.
More literally, “don’t practice divination and soothsaying.”
Some people, in expressions of grief or extreme urgency, cut their hair and beards. It was a way of calling out to the gods for help or for conjuring up spirits of the dead.
See note above, the second 19:26 note.
This holiest place on earth to Israelite ancestors of the Jewish people is where they kept the gold-plated box that held the two stones containing the Ten Commandments. The box is best known as the Ark of the Covenant. A curtain separated this room from the main room in the tent worship center sometimes known as the Tabernacle and sometimes as the Meeting Tent. The Sacred Room was the main sanctuary inside the tent worship center. Aaron’s sons were allowed to go into this room. But the Most Sacred Room was off limits to everyone but Aaron and Moses. That’s where God met with Moses to give him instructions.
Okay, God didn’t say the words “Don’t you forget it.” But 15 times in 37 verses he reminded the people that he’s the LORD. That was not likely for poetic effect as much as it was for making a point with reminders of smoke on the mountain, thunder in the valley, and the Egyptian army floating face-down in the sea while the Israelites munched on free food in the desert.
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
Chapter 19 of Leviticus starts out with God saying: “Devote yourself to me and be holy because I am holy.” That seems like a tall order. Read through the chapter quickly. Can you see how someone like you or I could go about being holy as God himself is holy? What do you think holiness is going to look like on a human?
In verse 19:19 God tells the Israelites “Don’t mate two breeds of cattle. Don’t plant a field with two kinds of seed. And don’t wear clothes made from two kinds of fabric mixed together. Reasons behind these strictures have eluded scholars over the centuries and no real consensus has surfaced. Which of the following explanations seems the most likely to you?
- What God created was pure, unadulterated, and holy. If people start messing around with it, they’re going to mess it up.
- According to Genesis God brought order into the world he created by separating one thing from the other (such as light from darkness). And so, bringing together what God had separated violated the Creation.
- The law against mating different breeds of cattle really meant not plowing with them as plowing was often used as a sexual metaphor.
- Not mixing different types of seed applied only in the vineyard.
- Mixing was an attribute of holiness and should be found only in the sacred rooms of the tent worship center and in the clothing worn by priests.
In verse 18 God commands: “Love your neighbor just as you love yourself. I am the LORD” That’s a pretty powerful commandment! In Mark 12:31 Jesus calls it the second most important of all the commandments. (The first is to love God.) But from early times, experts have debated about who was meant by “neighbor.” Jewish scholars from of old had their opinions (some held it referred only to other Jews). Jesus had his opinion (everybody), though he expressed it in the Good Samaritan parable that needed to be interpreted. What’s your opinion on this very serious matter? Who do you think the law was telling us to love?
LIFE APPLICATION. Farmers are told not to harvest the edges of their fields. They are to leave crops there for the benefit of the poor, who can follow behind and collect food for their own use. This law constituted a kind of poverty tax. And it worked. Ruth, the great grandmother of King David, took advantage of the law. As a penniless widow who was caring for her mother-in-law, Ruth came to Bethlehem where she not only found food left in the fields for the poor, but a new husband as well. Today we have government programs that try to help the poor, but many people are still without the means to live in comfort. Yet we as Christians are expected to help the poor, just as the ancient Israelites were. What sorts of things can we as individuals do to help? And which of these do you think Christians do best?
LIFE APPLICATION. God not only told the Israelites to care for the poor. He also warned against taking advantage of them: Don’t steal. Don’t cheat people. Don’t lie. When you need to make a judgment call, be objective. Don’t play favorites—not toward the poor or the rich. Don’t slander people with trash talk. And don’t put them in danger of losing their lives. Almost all good people would agree, but there are people in the world who totally disregard these laws. When you come across people in your lives who exploit the poor and the most vulnerable, how do you deal with them?
LIFE APPLICATION. When have you or someone you know stepped up to become an advocate for someone who needed help and didn’t seem to be getting any?