Religious and Social Regulations, 1-4

19:1 The LORD spoke to Moses: 19:2 “Speak to the whole congregation of the Israelites and tell them, ‘You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy. 19:3 Each of you must respect his mother and his father, and you must keep my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God. 19:4 Do not turn to idols, and you must not make for yourselves gods of cast metal. I am the LORD your God.

Eating the Peace Offering, 5-8

19:5 “ ‘When you sacrifice a peace offering sacrifice to the LORD, you must sacrifice it so that it is accepted for you. 19:6 It must be eaten on the day of your sacrifice and on the following day, but what is left over until the third day must be burned up. 19:7 If, however, it is eaten on the third day, it is spoiled, it will not be accepted, 19:8 and the one who eats it will bear his punishment for iniquity because he has profaned what is holy to the LORD. That person will be cut off from his people.

Leaving the Gleanings, 9-10

19:9 “ ‘When you gather in the harvest of your land, you must not completely harvest the corner of your field, and you must not gather up the gleanings of your harvest. 19:10 You must not pick your vineyard bare, and you must not gather up the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You must leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.

Dealing Honestly, 11-14

19:11 “ ‘You must not steal, you must not tell lies, and you must not deal falsely with your fellow citizen. 19:12 You must not swear falsely in my name, so that you do not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. 19:13 You must not oppress your neighbor or commit robbery against him. You must not withhold the wages of the hired laborer overnight until morning. 19:14 You must not curse a deaf person or put a stumbling block in front of a blind person. You must fear your God; I am the LORD.

v13 ‘It was not just Jesus who showed the deeper relevance of the law. The eighth, ninth and third commandments are compressed into vs 11–12, and then shown to be relevant to all forms of cheating or deception in general, and to employment relations in particular.’ (NBC)

Justice, Love, and Propriety, 15-19

19:15 “ ‘You must not deal unjustly in judgment: you must neither show partiality to the poor nor honor the rich. You must judge your fellow citizen fairly. 19:16 You must not go about as a slanderer among your people. You must not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the LORD. 19:17 You must not hate your brother in your heart. You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him. 19:18 You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. 19:19 You must keep my statutes. You must not allow two different kinds of your animals to breed, you must not sow your field with two different kinds of seed, and you must not wear a garment made of two different kinds of fabric.

v16 The picture here is of the tale-bearer going ‘up and down’, spreading malicious gossip.

Cf. Psa 15:3.

v17 ‘If we apprehend that our neighbour has any way wronged us, we must not conceive a secret grudge against him, and estrange ourselves from him, speaking to him neither bad nor good, as the manner of some is, who have the art of concealing their displeasure till they have an opportunity of a full revenge (2 Sa. 13:22); but we must rather give vent to our resentments with the meekness of wisdom, endeavour to convince our brother of the injury, reason the case fairly with him, and so put an end to the disgust conceived: this is the rule our Saviour gives in this case, Lk 17:3.’ (MHC)

‘Friendly reproof is a duty we owe to one another, and we ought both to give it and take it in love.’ (MHC)

'Love your neighbour as yourself'

Baroness Thatcher was a ‘devout Christian’, according to Dr Eliza Filby, author of God and Mrs Thatcher.  She regularly attended the parish church at Chequers, regarded the life of Jesus as exemplary, and drew on the Bible to support her political values.

I will not call into question the sincerity of Baroness Thatcher’s faith.  But I will, however, comment on one rather glaring (mis)understanding of the teaching of Scripture.

As reported in Christianity magazine (June 2013), Filby says says that in the early 1980s the text “Love thy neighbour” was often appealed to in support of the welfare state.  Thatcher’s response was, “No, it’s not ‘love thy neighbour’, it’s ‘love thy neighbour as thyself”.”  Her point was that self-regard is the basis of concern for others; we have to take care of ourselves before we can fulfill our obligations to others.  The practical implication of this was to put the brakes on the welfare state.

Whatever might be the merits of this as politics, as an understanding of the Bible text itself it’s not very good.  It is rather surprising, then, to find so eminent a biblical scholar as Scott McKnight repeating the same idea, with reference to Jesus’ ethical teaching in the Sermon on the Mount:-

Love of neighbor in Leviticus 19:18 is rooted in proper love of self: “love your neighbor as yourself. ” The Golden Rule, the other great reduction of the Torah by Jesus (Matt 7:12), also rings the bell of self-love: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” There is then…a threefold dimension to the essence of Jesus’ moral vision: love of God, love of self, love of others. If Jesus explicitly reduces the Torah to loving God and loving others as oneself, then every ethical statement of Jesus somehow needs to be connected to the double commandment of love.

(The Story of God Bible Commentary, on The Sermon on the Mount)

As James Edwards (in his commentary on Romans 13:9) says, this doctrine of self-love ‘owes more to self-help psychology than to biblical theology.’  There are numerous commands in Scripture to love God and our neighbour, but none to love ourselves.

The command to “Love your neighbour as yourself” is found in Leviticus 19:18, and repeated (or, at least, referred to) in Mt 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mk 12:31,33; Lk 10:27; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:8 (some of these are parallels).  In none of these instances is any elaboration given of the expression ‘as yourself’.  All we can say is that self-love is assumed.  We cannot say that it is encouraged, still less demanded.  Moreover, Lev 19:18 ends with the statement, “For I am the Lord”, which directs attention away from ourselves and towards God.

‘The command “love your neighbor as yourself” is not a command to love both my neighbor and myself, but a command to love my neighbor as much as, in fact, I love myself. That is, self-love is not a virtue that Scripture commends, but one of the facts of our humanity that it recognizes and tells us to use as a standard. The best commentary is the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12 NIV). We know instinctively in every situation how we would like to be treated; so let this knowledge determine our treatment of others.’ (Christ the Cornerstone: Collected Essays of John Stott)

What the command is saying, then, is that we are to love our neighbour in the same way that we do, in fact, love ourselves.  Given that we habitually love ourselves by putting ourselves and our wants and needs first, we could say that this commandment is urging us to put our neighbour (and her wants and needs) first.  That isn’t to say that we should cultivate self-loathing.  But it is to say that Margaret Thatcher got her biblical interpretation wrong on this occasion.  She’s not alone in that, of course.  But in her case it did have rather serious consequences.

‘A “neighbor” was anyone with whom there was contact, whether Israelite (v. 17) or alien (v. 34; cf. Matt. 22:39, 40; Rom. 13:9).’ (Reformation Study Bible)

‘The law of love for one’s fellows is enunciated only here and in verse 34, and appears to embrace members of the covenant community (‘sons of your own people’) along with aliens and strangers who lived among them. Indeed, the terms ‘love’ and ‘neighbour’ seem to have been as comprehensive in scope then as now. This so-called ‘golden rule’ was quoted by Christ (Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27, etc.) as an ideal of altruistic behaviour in society. The sentiment underlying this aphorism was unique in the ancient world, and represents one of the Old Testament’s most outstanding moral precepts.’ (Harrison)

‘The great parable on this verse is the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30–37). Its usual interpretation is that to love your neighbor is to help the unfortunate as the Good Samaritan did. Another view notes that the Good Samaritan is the hero of the story. Jesus asked who had become neighbor to the wounded man. The obvious answer is, the Samaritan. Then, Jesus implies, “Love the Samaritan.” This the lawyer never did. He did not really keep the law and thus needed God’s grace. This is somewhat more limited than the Levitical law that forbids revenge and anger against any “one of your people.”‘ (EBC)

‘We often wrong ourselves, but we soon forgive ourselves those wrongs, and they do not at all lessen our love to ourselves; and in like manner we should love our neighbour. Our Saviour has made this the second great commandment of the law (Mt. 22:39), and the apostle shows how it is the summary of all the laws of the second table, Rom. 13:9, 10; Gal. 5:14. We must love our neighbour as truly as we love ourselves, and without dissimulation; we must evidence our love to our neighbour in the same way as that by which we evidence our love to ourselves, preventing his hurt, and procuring his good, to the utmost of our power. We must do to our neighbour as we would be done to ourselves (Mt. 7:12), putting our souls into his soul’s stead, Job 16:4, 5. Nay, we must in many cases deny ourselves for the good of our neighbour, as Paul, 1 Co. 9:19, etc. Herein the gospel goes beyond even that excellent precept of the law; for Christ, by laying down his life for us, has taught us even to lay down our lives for the brethren, in some cases (1 Jn. 3:16), and so to love our neighbour better than ourselves.’ (MHC)

v19 These commands seem to be about the risk of spoiling a good product through adulteration.  Planting a field with wheat and barley, for example, would make harvesting difficult, because the two crops would ripen at different times.  Weaving flax and wool together would lead to unequal shrinkage and take-up of dye.

The command against the mating of different kinds of animals is more problematic.  In the parallel passage in Deut 22:9-11 the prohibition is against yoking an ox and a donkey together.  It may be that both passage are, in fact, about the mismatching, rather than the mismating, of animals.  After all, horses and donkeys were regularly mated (to produce sterile mules) without any adverse comment.  It may be that the NIV translation is incorrect.  The word translated ‘mate’ actually means ‘lie down’.  ‘Possibly the figure in Lev 19:19 is not sexual at all but more naturally would forbid causing different animals to bear a load in such a way that it would be an unequal load under which they would fall. If this interpretation is adopted, the law would fit beautifully its parallel in Deuteronomy. Indeed, the LXX on Lev 19:19 can be read, “You shall not hold down your animals with an unequal yoke.” The word “hold down” is rare and is translated here sexually by some, but its derivatives usually refer to “restraint” in general. We suggest, therefore, something like, “Do not make your animals fall down with an unequal yoke.”‘ (EBC)

Lying with a Slave Woman, 20-22

19:20 “ ‘When a man has sexual intercourse with a woman, although she is a slave woman designated for another man and she has not yet been ransomed, or freedom has not been granted to her, there will be an obligation to pay compensation. They must not be put to death, because she was not free. 19:21 He must bring his guilt offering to the LORD at the entrance of the Meeting Tent, a guilt offering ram, 19:22 and the priest is to make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin that he has committed, and he will be forgiven of his sin that he has committed.

This law ‘requires from the seducer no more than the sacrifice of a ram as a guilt-offering, whereas his life and hers would have been forfeit had she been a free woman.  At first sight this suggests a contemptuous valuation of the slave girl; but in fact it reflects an appreciation of her weak position, for she was spared her life, and indeed any penalty at all, “because she was not free”.  The requirement of no more than a guilt offering from the man was therefore an adjustment, it seems, to bring his sentence and her exemption into some kind of compatibility.’ (Kidner, Hard Sayings, p32)

The Produce of Fruit Trees, 23-25

19:23 “ ‘When you enter the land and plant any fruit tree, you must consider its fruit to be forbidden. Three years it will be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. 19:24 In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, praise offerings to the LORD. 19:25 Then in the fifth year you may eat its fruit to add its produce to your harvest. I am the LORD your God.

Blood, Hair, and Body, 26-29

19:26 “ ‘You must not eat anything with the blood still in it. You must not practice either divination or soothsaying. 19:27 You must not round off the corners of the hair on your head or ruin the corners of your beard. 19:28 You must not slash your body for a dead person or incise a tattoo on yourself. I am the LORD. 19:29 Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, so that the land does not practice prostitution and become full of lewdness.

You must not round off the corners of the hair on your head or ruin the corners of your beard – ‘The prohibitions about reshaping beards and hair (Lev 19:26–28), e.g., probably relate to practices designed to avoid recognition by evil spirits who supposedly hover around a dead body and operate only in the context of such beliefs.’ (Thiselton, on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Purity, Honor, Respect, and Honesty, 30-37

19:30 “ ‘You must keep my Sabbaths and fear my sanctuary. I am the LORD. 19:31 Do not turn to the spirits of the dead and do not seek familiar spirits to become unclean by them. I am the LORD your God. 19:32 You must stand up in the presence of the aged, honor the presence of an elder, and fear your God. I am the LORD. 19:33 When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. 19:34 The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God. 19:35 You must not do injustice in the regulation of measures, whether of length, weight, or volume. 19:36 You must have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt. 19:37 You must be sure to obey all my statutes and regulations. I am the LORD.’ ”