A prayer for your use before reading by Origen (c. 185 – c. 254) was an early church father from Alexandria.
Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and meditate upon them day and night. We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put its precepts into practice. Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love. So we ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts. Amen.
V. Leviticus 17:1-26:46 The Holiness Code :These chapters are a distinct section in Leviticus with their own style and vocabulary but they are not considered to be a completely separate work that has been inserted into Leviticus as there are points of similarity. Notice as you read, the continued references to holiness and the call to “be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy”. Notice also that this section focuses mostly on the people of Israel rather then just the priests. Holiness is a way of life having to do with worship and with social justice. Leviticus 19 is considered “the climactic chapter of the book” (Bamberger, 889)
19:1-37 Holiness is Social Ethics: Notice how often “I am the Lord” appears. “The level of ethical performance expected of all persons was that of an imitation of the very character of God…. Holiness stands as the foundational principle in the long list of precepts set fourth in this chapter. Holiness is the object of all of the moral and ceremonial law. But since God sets the norm and defines just what holiness does and does not include, God’s holiness acts both as model and as motivating force in the development and maintenance of a holy character. To make sure that the point is not lost, fifteen times the sixteen subsections end with the reminder that ” I am the Lord [your God]”. (Kaisar, 1131)
There are three main sections in chapter 19: Verses 3-8 concern two basic duties, to parents and to God. Verses 9-18 concerns the duties of persons to each other. Notice v 18. Verses 19-36 “keep my decrees”. cover various areas of life. There appears to be a concern, again, not to mix “kinds”. Also there is an emphasis on not participating in pagan acts, rituals and behaviors.
What is the relationship between faith and ethics that Leviticus 19 describes? Bamburger writes, “In Judaism, religion and ethics, though not identical, are inseparable. (890) “The idea of holiness implies that what we do and what we make of our lives matters not only to us as individuals, not only to society, but to the entire cosmos. A divine purpose runs through all existence. We can ally ourselves to it or oppose it- or, perhaps worse, we can ignore it.”(891-892)
Chapter 20: In this chapter, punishments for disobedience are specified. There are two main sections, v1-8,27 penalty for worshiping Molech, and v 9-26 penalty for sins against the family.
The laws in chapters 18-19 are often called “apodictic” meaning they are like the ten commandments- you shall….. In chapter 20 the laws are “casuistic” or in the form of case law (if a man… or When…)
On the punishments, Kaisar says that “cut off” may be something different than stoning, more like excommunication. On the death penalty; Kaisar thinks it is used to indicate the seriousness of the crimes. but that there is little evidence that the death penalty was actually used in ancient Israel for these crimes. Traditionally, both Jewish and Christian commentators believed that in the case of these verses (9-26) calling for the death penalty it was possible to have the death sentence commuted by a ransom or substitute which was determined by a judge. The exception to this ability to escape the death penalty was first degree murder.
“Taken together, the instructions in Leviticus 18-20 reflect an effort to bring every aspect of human action and interaction into the divine call for holiness:sexuality, family life, business matters, cultic life, and legal processes. Holiness is a quality of relational interaction that reflects faithfulness, honesty, integrity, justice, and compassion and is grounded in the holiness of Yahweh, the very good order of creation, and the history of Israel’s redemption” (Gorman, 162).
21:1-22-16 Holiness of Priests and Offerings: now our focus moves from ordinary persons to what is expected of priests. There are five sections here, rules for marriage of ordinary priests (21:1-8), rules for mourning and marriage of the high priest (21:9-15) physical “blemish” and the priesthood (21:16-24), impediments to eating the food reserved for the priesthood (22:1-9) and who may eat the food (22:10-16).
Read More About It.
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of the Torah.
Anderson, Bernhard W. “Leviticus” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Bamberger, Bernard J. “Leviticus” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.
Gorman, Frank H. Jr. “Leviticus” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Hallo, William W. “Leviticus and Ancient Near Eastern Literature” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.
Kaiser, Walter C., Jr, “The Book of Leviticus” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.