Excerpt for Discovering Justice in the Old Testament - Leader's Edition by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

1Discovering Justice in the Old Testament

Ten Kings You Should Know

A Small Group Bible Study - Leader’s Edition

Bruce Reed Pullen


Discovering Justice in the Old Testament – Leader’s Edition

By Bruce Reed Pullen

Copyright 2017 - Bruce Reed Pullen

Smashwords Edition

ISBN (eBook): 9781370015252

This eBook is licensed to you for your personal enjoyment only. Please do not resell or give it away to other people. If you desire to share this book with others, please ask them to purchase their own copy from Smashwords or their favorite book store. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please go to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. The author thanks you and appreciates your financial support.

Sections of this document may be quoted in a review. Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations in this eBook are based on The Poverty and Justice Bible, Contemporary English Version, copyright 1995 by the American Bible Society and are used by permission.

Discovering Justice in the Old Testament - Leader’s Edition includes Discovering Justice - Student Edition plus additional introduction material, scripture commentary, and notes for the leader for use with a small group Bible study.

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Contents

Author - Bruce Reed Pullen

Preface – Decalogue (Ten Commandments)

Part One: The Torah – Justice Defined

1. What Is Justice? (Exodus 23)

2. Love People (Leviticus 19)

3. A Second Chance (Leviticus 25)

4. Love God (Deuteronomy 6 & 10)


Part Two: The Kings – Justice Administered

5. Samuel and Saul (I Samuel 8, 9)

6. David (2 Samuel 23 & I Chronicles 18)

7. Solomon (I Kings 3)

8. Joram and Elisha (2 Kings 8)

9. Jehoshaphat (II Chronicles 19)

Part Three: The Prophets - Justice Promised

10. The Promise of Justice (Psalm 146)

11. The Promise of Hope (Isaiah 9)

12. The Promise of Just Leadership (Jeremiah 33)

13. The Promise of Peace (Ezekiel 34 & 45)


Recommended Reading

14. Four books about justice

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The Author - Bruce Reed Pullen

Bruce Reed Pullen is a graduate of Rutgers University (B.A.), Colgate Rochester Divinity School (B.D.), Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.M.), and Palmer Theological Seminary (D. Min.). He has served as senior pastor in churches in Hopewell, New Jersey; Burlington, Iowa; Alton, Illinois; and Westfield, Massachusetts, and as an interim pastor in Williamstown, Massachusetts; New London, New Hampshire, and Warrenville, Illinois. Bruce, and his wife, Judy, are retired and live in Illinois. He is the author of several books, including:

Discovering Celtic ChristianityTen Celtic Saints You Should Know

Discovering Baptist Beginnings – Ten Early Baptists You Should Know

Discovering the Prophets in the Old Testament - Student and Leader Editions

Advice from Paul - from his Letters to the Thessalonian and Philippian Christians

Discovering Joy – Reflections on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

Discovering Justice in the Old Testament - Student and Leader Editions


Preface

The Covenant

Before the Constitution, before the Magna Carta, before the Roman Empire and its Senate, there was the Covenant revealed and ratified by God through Moses on Mount Sinai. It included the Ten Commandments among the laws we are to observe. Interpretation of these laws soon followed. What evolved laid the foundation for peace within the community. Over the years it has influenced the world view which led eventually to the creation of our constitution.

Decalogue - The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 1-17 and Deuteronomy 5: 1-21)

God said to the people of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, the one who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves. Do not worship any god except me. Do not make idols that look like anything in the sky or on earth or in the ocean under the earth. Don’t bow down and worship idols. I am the Lord your God, and I demand all your love. If you reject me, I will punish your families for three or four generations. But if you love me and obey my laws, I will be kind to your families for thousands of generations. Do not misuse my name. I am the Lord your God, and I will punish anyone who misuses my name. Remember that the Sabbath Day belongs to me. You have six days when you can do your work, but the seventh day of each week belongs to me, your God. No one is to work on that day - not you, your children, your slaves, your animals, or the foreigners who live in your towns. In six days I made the sky, the earth, the oceans, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That’s why I made the Sabbath a special day that belongs to me.


Respect your father and your mother, and you will live a long time in the land I am giving you. Do not murder. Be faithful in marriage. Do not steal. Do not tell lies about others. Do not want anything that belongs to someone else. Don’t want anyone’s house, wife or husband, slaves, oxen, donkeys or anything else.”

The Constitution

In the summer of 1787 fifty-five men representing twelve states gathered in Philadelphia to create a constitution. The delegates were well educated with vast practical experience. Most desired a strong government. Edmund Randolph from Virginia proposed a national government patterned after a plan Virginia was using which called for three branches: Legislative, Executive and Judiciary. By the end of the summer the new constitution had taken form with James Madison being responsible for most of the actual drafting. It outlined an original form of government, more national than federal, derived from both ancient and contemporary forms. The main criticism of the document was it had no Bill of Rights. The constitution was finally adopted when New York, Virginia, and Massachusetts all ratified it after being assured one would be adopted.

These reflections in Discovering Justice in the Old Testament are about justice and the way it is defined, enacted and promised. The call for justice is a call to set right what is not right (injustice). It is a call for fairness and equity in our relationships with God and each other.

Part One: Justice Defined. The Torah (the first five books of the Bible) defines justice and then asks what does God require of us?

Part Two: Justice Enacted. Israel’s leaders, Saul, David, Solomon, Joram, and Jehoshaphat reveal how they interpret God’s command for justice.

Part Three: Justice Promised. The promise of justice is proclaimed by the psalmist and the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.

Dr. Bruce Reed Pullen, May 2017

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Part One: Justice Defined - The Torah

Chapter 1 - What is Justice?

An Introduction to Exodus

Freed from Egypt, the slaves escaped into the Sinai Desert under the leadership of Moses heading toward Mt. Sinai. Three months after crossing the Reed Sea, the tired pilgrims having reached the holy mountain of Sinai, camped near the place where Moses met God at the burning bush.

After the slaves gave thanks to God for the mighty acts that freed them, they wondered, “What does God expect of us in return?” They watched as Moses climbed the mountain and disappeared into the mist; then they waited expectantly for him to return with a word from God.

God made a covenant (an agreement) with them that would be foundational for their future relationship. This covenant, found in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 19-24), was the basis upon which a faith community was formed.

The covenant (Decalogue or Ten Commandments Exodus 20:1-21) was, for the newly formed community, the basic rule or order by which the people would live in relationship with God and each other. Israel was to be a little “Kingdom of God” on earth and this covenant was to be its guide in understanding what it meant to live a just life in obedience to the king, God.

While camping in the desert the Israelites established the foundations for their national life. Using the Ten Commandments as a base or constitution, they began to define what justice means in everyday life (case law).

The Covenant Code (Exodus 20:22-23:33) is a lengthy collection of case law compiled to interpret the Decalogue and define what it means in everyday life. These case laws are specific attempts to apply God’s principles to the lives of those who are struggling to bring what they do into conformity with the covenant.

Wherever and whenever this case law originated, it has been compiled here and applied to what it means to live a life in relationship with God and others. Because it is placed in this context (after the Decalogue) it is a theological assertion that at this point in time this is what is required of the people of God.

The opening verse (Exodus 20:23) of this case law collection is a variation on the first two of the Ten Commandments. It introduces the rules from Israel’s only God for just living. The material that follows is a series of attempts within the community to more fully discern the mind and will of God for everyday life.

What follows is case law or guiding decisions that have resulted from cases and have now become authoritative. These are stated guidelines for living in relationship with God. While these guiding decisions are based on the principles underlying the Ten Commandments, they usually are examples of crimes to the covenant community not specifically mentioned in the Decalogue.

The first extended section of case law deals with the way slaves both male and female are to be treated. Case law continues in the next chapter (Exodus 22) with comments on theft and the protection of property. The variety of legal codes in the Covenant Code are given their unity by its theological purpose, the compiling and application of the principles of a just life lived in covenant with God. The case law is put in three forms: commandments; prohibitions; and “here is what you should do to right a wrong.”

Near the end of Exodus 22 (22:20-26) there are a series of prohibitions and commands which focus, as does our printed text (Exodus 23: 1-9), on the defenseless and disadvantaged, the needy and the newcomer. These humanitarian concerns are reflected throughout the Old Testament in every major aspect of its teachings as we are to discover during this study on justice.

The newcomer or tourist (foreigner or alien) was often without connections and so was open to abuse. Because the people of Israel had experienced abuse in Egypt and knew how it felt, God asked them to treat non-Israelites, not as they had been treated when they were visitors in a foreign land, but fairly, as they had hoped to be treated.

Our compassionate God confesses here a special concern for the poor (Exodus 22:24-26) which explains these guiding principles and commands related to the defenseless members of the covenant community.

Members of the covenant community (Exodus 22:27-30) are to respect God. Disrespect is shown when any of God’s guiding principles or commands are ignored or disobeyed. Examples would be cursing a leader in the covenant community; another would be to not support the community as the covenant requires. Leaders were elected by the people under the guidance of God. To show disrespect for a leader then meant showing disrespect for the God of the covenant.

We are called to not only be gracious, but to also be generous. In that day if you were blessed by a good crop, you were called to generously give a little more than usual to God (Exodus 22:29). The principle holds for us today.

Scripture Commentary - Exodus 23

Exodus 23:1-9 consists of provisions concerned with ethical and humane behavior intended to safeguard the community through the practice of justice.

Exodus 23:1-3.Rumors and Reputations. Spreading rumors, both good and bad, may affect legal procedures in the covenant community. Reports are to be grounded in fact and testimony is to be honest. Doing wrong just because others, including the majority, are doing it is forbidden. Although the focus is on false witness, the underlying concern is the perversion of justice. Just following the majority opinion (mob rule) may cause a great miscarriage of justice.

Exodus 23:4-5.Kindness, not Revenge. The guiding principle here is to not take advantage of another’s bad luck even if the person is someone you dislike. Out of kindness you would probably catch a stray animal or help a stranger rearrange a load, but if the stray belongs to someone you hate, you might hope for the worst to happen. As a member of the covenant community, you are to wish for the best for even those you dislike. For the sake of the neighbor and the health of the community, you have responsibilities that override you emotional inclinations. The community depends on neighborly acts that enhance the life of all. When we apply God’s laws of fairness and kindness to our enemies, we show how different we are from the rest of the world.

Exodus 23: 6-8.Legal instructions. Bribes are not to be accepted since a bribe may change the result making the judgement unfair thus perverting justice. The courts are affirmed as the place where justice should be practiced. A genuine commitment to the rights of all concerned should limit the manipulation of the law. Justice is derived from the commitment of the community to do right and treat others fairly.

Exodus 23:9.Compassion. We are to have compassion for the disadvantaged person because our people were once disadvantaged (foreigners in the land of Egypt (23:9). This verse “portrays a passionate commitment to the maintenance of a community in which all members are safe and respected, in which due process is guaranteed, and in which selfish interest is curbed for the sake of the weaker, more vulnerable members of society.”1

Exodus 23:33. The Covenant Code concludes by reaffirming that Israel is to have no other gods, not in any form, not for any reason.

A Small Group Bible Study

Scripture Study: Exodus 23: 1-9

Focus Verse: Make sure that the poor are given equal justice in court. (Exodus 23:6)

What Is Justice?

An answer lies in the Old and New Testament writings which mention the word “justice” over a thousand times. We all have a strong intuitive sense of what justice is. Even young children have an innate sense of justice. How many times have you heard them complain, “That’s so unfair.”

Jesus calls us to love God and love people. We can affirm that principle, but how do we put it into practice? Aristotle considered slavery to be an essential part of a just society, while British and American abolitionists declared slavery was the highest form of injustice. We all know justice is important in our lives although we may disagree on what it means to do what is just.

1. How do you define justice?

2. What are some examples of the justice system at work as seen in the news?

And So We Have Rules

And so we have rules to define what we have agreed is a just and fair way of living. In the first part of this book we will review some of the codes or rules for living that are found in the Torah. Do rules make you uncomfortable? Ever quote, as I have, “Rules are meant to be broken?” Even when I know they may be good rules, rules often bother me because they limit my freedom.

Have you ever tried to play a game without rules? Imagine what football would be like without any rules. We may argue over the rules and demand instant replay when they are broken, but we know very well that if there are no rules, or if people disregard the rules, the game will be very frustrating, and perhaps harmful, because it will be unfair. So it is with life, and God knows it. God has given us some rules; we have made up others. Although most of them are not very complicated, they are very essential. When we all play the game of life by them, life becomes more satisfying. When we break the covenant rules, we may damage our relationship with God and each other.

3. Do rules make you uncomfortable? Did you ever say, “Rules are meant to be broken? Do you feel that rules limit your freedom?

4. Although there are specific rules for playing games such as Monopoly and Scrabble, did you ever make up some rules to “better” facilitate a game? What were they?

The Book of the Covenant (Exodus 19 through- 24)

Freed from Egypt, the slaves escaped into the Sinai Desert. Under the leadership of Moses they headed toward Mt. Sinai. Three months after crossing the Reed Sea, the tired pilgrims reached the holy mountain of Sinai camping near where Moses first met God at the burning bush.

The slaves gave thanks to God for the mighty acts that had freed them. Then they asked, “What does God expect of us in return?” Moses climbed the mountain and disappeared into the mist as they watched and waited expectantly for him to return with a word from God.

God made a covenant (an agreement) with them that would be foundational for their future relationships. This covenant, the Book of the Covenant, is the basis upon which a faith community was formed. No document has influenced Western culture to the degree the Book of the Covenant which includes the Ten Commandments has done. In Western civilization, it has a position of inescapable significance. For Christians and Jews this is one of the few formulations of religious principles held in common. In many churches, knowledge of the Ten Commandments is a requirement for membership and its recitation is included in every worship service. The civil law of many countries is rooted in the covenant law of God given at Sinai.

The Decalogue or Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-21) was a guide for the new community. Israel was to be a little Kingdom of God on earth and the covenant was to be its guide in understanding what it meant to live a just life in obedience to the king, who, in a theocracy, is God.

While camping in the desert the Israelites formulated the foundations for their national life. Using the Ten Commandments as a base, they developed their initial agreements for the worship of God and for their responsibilities to one another (case law). The Book of the Covenant begins and ends with the same command: the covenant community is to have no other gods that God (Yahweh) in any form and for any reason. It was the primary guide to applying the Ten Commandments to the conduct of life in relationship to God.

5. What are some examples of case law (rules on how to treat others fairly, which are based on our constitution?

The Covenant Code - Exodus 20:22 through 23:33

After Moses confirmed God had spoken to him, he proceeded to interpret for the people what these commandments meant for their daily lives. The Covenant Code and the Holiness Code (see chapters two and three) are a lengthy collection of case law compiled to interpret the Decalogue and to describe what it meant to live a just life in covenant with God. These laws are specific attempts to apply God’s principles to the lives of those who are struggling to bring what they do into conformity with the covenant.

Wherever and whenever this case law originated, it was applied to the lives lived in relationship with God and others. Because they are placed in this context (after the Decalogue), they are a theological assertion that at this point in time and in this place this is what is required of the people of God for living a just life in relationship with God and each other.

The opening verse (Exodus 20:22) of the case law collection links it to the preceding section. After Moses confirms God spoke with him, he proceeds to interpret for the people what the commandments mean for their daily lives. What follows is case law, rules on how to treat others fairly, which have resulted from judgments in past cases and have now become authoritative. These guiding decisions are based on the principles stated in the Ten Commandments.

The Covenant Code includes a variety of legal codes which are given their unity by its theological purpose, the compiling and application of rules for living a just life in covenant with God. The forms include commandments (do this); prohibitions (don=t do this); and a form that asks and then answers what should be done to right a wrong. These humanitarian concerns for fairness and justice are reflected throughout the Old Testament in every major aspect of its teachings.

Rumors and Reputations - Exodus 23:1-3

Ethical behavior, both good and bad, has a direct connection with legal procedures in the covenant community. Reports are to be grounded in fact and testimony is to be honest. Doing wrong just because others, including the majority, are doing it is forbidden.

6. What are some examples of unethical behavior mentioned here?

Kindness, not Revenge – Exodus 23:4-5

Next Exodus advises not to take advantage of another’s bad luck even if it is someone you dislike. For instance, you would probably catch a stray animal or even help a stranger rearrange a load, but you might not if the animal belongs to someone who hates you. As a member of the covenant community, you are to wish the best for those who dislike you and to treat them fairly. Jesus surprised many by advocating the same thing many years later.

7. Can you give an example of an event in which you or someone else was tempted to wish for the worst to happen to someone instead of wishing the best for them?

Legal Instructions – Exodus 23:6-9

The text concludes with legal instructions. Bribes are not acceptable because by changing the result a bribe may make the judgement unfair. And finally we are advised to treat the disadvantaged person with compassion, just as God treated each member of the covenant community with compassion when they were slaves in Egypt. The Covenant Code concludes (Exodus 23:33) by reaffirming Israel is not to worship any other gods, not in any form, not for any reason.

8. Can you give an example of a perceived perversion of justice for the poor? What can persons of faith do to protest the inequality and injustice that the poor suffer?

9. What are some ways a judgment may be subverted? (Ex. Bribes)

10. Recall a time when you or someone you knew who was disadvantaged was treated with compassion. What impact did being treated with compassion have on your understanding of God and of others. What were you encouraged to do as a result of the experience?

Why have rules or laws?

We have laws because we are created not only to be free, but to live responsibly in relationship with others. Some years ago Norman Rockwell did a cover for the Saturday Evening Post of a woman buying her Thanksgiving turkey. The turkey is lying on the scales and the butcher is standing back of the counter, apron pulled tight over his fat stomach, a pencil tucked behind his ear. The customer, a lovely lady of about sixty, is watching the weighing-in. Each of them has a pleased look as if each knows a secret joke. There is nothing unusual about a butcher and a customer watching as a turkey is being weighed, but the expression on their faces indicates that something unusual is going on. Rockwell lets us in on the joke by showing us their hands. The butcher is pushing down on the scales with a big fat thumb while the woman is pushing up on them with a dainty forefinger. Neither seems to be aware of what the other is doing. Both the butcher and the lady would resent being called a thief, but neither saw anything wrong with a little deception that would make a few cents for one or save a few cents for the other. Rockwell has painted a picture of how we seek to live, trying to manipulate life for our own advantage. The laws of the covenant remind us there are eternal laws or rules by which we must abide when we live in community if we are to live a just life.

Law, in ancient times, as well as today, serves to regulate and control interpersonal relationships, to maintain the stability of community life, and to guarantee justice as justice is perceived. The law bound a mixed group of slaves together and made them a nation, Israel, a community that endures to the present day. The law became the outward expression of their covenant with God, so we call it Covenant Law. Their response to the covenant was to obey the law. This band of slaves, unorganized, untrained, unprepared for what lay ahead kept the commandments because of what God had done for them - allowed them to leave Egypt.

11. We have laws in order to live responsibly in relationship with others. What new rules would you make if you could? What old rules would you void if you could?

Conclusion

These Ten Commandments, or rules, or principles, or guidelines, whatever you wish to call them, are a formula for the creation of a community, a design for the making of a nation. In these words the new community in Jesus finds its life, bases its unity, and discovers the place for anchoring its life.

The first four of the Ten Commandments relates to our relationship with God and the last six to our relationships with each other. These vertical and horizontal relationships of life are symbolized in the cross. The law reminds us that neither of these relationships can be ignored, and neither is to receive emphasis to the exclusion of the other. Jesus would sum it up later by saying, “Love God and Love People.” Everyone desires and deserves justice. How do we act justly toward others? We treat them fairly and with respect observing the guidelines given us by God.

12. Why is it important to first love God and then to love others? How does this help pave the way to a just society?

Prayer

Eternal God, you taught us we may live a full and meaningful life if we love you and love people. Help us to know and serve others fairly and with respect, so we may show by what we do that we truly love you; through Jesus we pray. Amen.

Additional Notes for the Leader

The Book of the Covenant, beginning with the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) followed by the Covenant Code (case law), contains rules for just living given by God. This case law with its guiding principles, commands, and prohibitions is part of this collection which seeks to maintain just relationships in covenant with God and others. It begins and ends with the same command: the covenant community is to have no others gods than God (Jehovah, Yahweh) in any form and for any reason. The Covenant Code is a compilation of case law made over a period of time. The laws are in a variety of forms reflecting various sources. Law is not a matter of settled conclusions. It is an ongoing process of compromise to see what will work and what is acceptable. Laws do not have a once for all time meaning and intention as you can see from these case laws. As an example you may wish to discuss laws that are now out of date, some of which may still be on the books in some states and cities. Or you may wish to discuss recent Supreme Court rulings that change what was the accepted law of the land.

The Covenant Code is significantly placed in the narrative between the Sinai event with the revealing of the Ten Commandments and the formal agreement to the covenant. It was the primary guide to applying the Ten Commandments to the conduct of life in relationship to God. It seeks to discover how to serve the living God. That is why it begins and ends as it does.

Church Covenants. Some churches were founded on a covenant agreement, a solemn promise or agreement by a community of faith to walk in the Way of Jesus. The early Christians saw themselves as a community bound together by a covenant that was a free, creative reinterpretation of the older traditions. They spoke of a new covenant sealed with the blood of Jesus. The Sinai covenant established a community based on the Ten Commandments; the new covenant created a community based on the commandments to love God and love people.

Congregations create church covenants to succinctly express what it means to be a loving and purposeful people of God. A clearly phrased, meaningful covenant used in a significant way by a dedicated congregation can be a springboard for meaningful ministry and mission.

Some congregations, having organized around a covenant, still traditionally reaffirm their covenant with God and each other during the service during which they also celebrate communion. Whereas covenants in the past were often lengthy and detailed, the revised covenants of many contemporary churches are succinct and to the point, written in a style that is clearly understood and easily read. Covenants express how Christians agree to live together the new life in Jesus. Here is a contemporary covenant for your contemplation.

“Having been led by the Spirit of God to love and follow Jesus Christ, we do now joyfully covenant with God and each other:

to walk together in Christian love;

to worship God, observing the Lord’ s Supper and Baptism;

to commit ourselves to prayer and Bible study;

to love and forgive others, as God loves and forgives us;

to pray for and help others in times of sickness and distress;

to contribute cheerfully to the mission of the church;

to share our faith with our families, friends, and neighbors;

to pray and work for a spirit of unity among all Christians;

to strive for justice, freedom, and peace in our world; and

to join with some other Christian Church when we move from this community.

In every area of our lives, we will strive to do God’s will to the honor and glory of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen!”


You may wish to discuss your church covenant or this one.

You may wish to try to get behind the law and discover its spirit; what does God desire for human life lived in covenant. What are some decisions we must make to get through the day in covenant with God.

Our beliefs are the basis of our ethics, what we are called to do. They affect our politics and our economics. They are reflected in our judicial code. You could identify a social, economic, or legal injustice in your community, region, or nation and discuss possible solutions in which your class could be involved. You may wish to have some current newspaper articles to highlight just or unjust practices in the community.

Is there a difference between God’s justice and the way justice is dispensed in our court system? In the middle ages church and state had separate courts.

The Covenant Code tried to define what justice meant, not only for our neighbors, but also for aliens and immigrants. What would be a fair way to handle our immigration problem?

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Chapter 2 – Love People

Introduction to Leviticus

How was the relationship with God forged in the wilderness to be maintained? The Torah or Pentateuch which is divided into five books of which Leviticus is the third one seeks to answer that question. The focus of the book is worship and just living by the people as led by the priests, the sons of Aaron.

Moses has set up the Tabernacle and God’s Spirit has made its home there. Now God gives Moses some directions for worship in the new sanctuary. The book opens with a complex introduction and continues with a series of speeches by Moses that inform the people of what it means to live as God’s just people.

The first four set the stage for what follows (Leviticus 17-26). The priests and congregation, now cleansed and forgiven, are spiritually prepared to hear the message God tells Moses to repeat. “Speak to all the congregations of the people of Israel and say to them: ‘You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy (Leviticus 19:2).’” This pattern is often repeated in most Christian worship services as the congregation confesses, is forgiven, and hears the word read and preached.

The community had a significant role in shaping the Torah which, in turn, was a major force in forming the character and culture of Israel. Contemporary communities of faith are also shaped and empowered by God’s word as they discover it in the Bible and adopt guidelines for living.

The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) is a high holy day in the Jewish calendar. On this day Jews abstain from earthly pleasures as they seek forgiveness for their sins. In early Israel the high priest officiated on this day cleansing the temple of Israel’s sins. The Day of Atonement continues to be Israel’s most important and solemn day of the year although now it is observed by fasting and prayers instead of sacrifices.

The Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-26). The Holiness Code follows the description of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). It seeks to set out the ethical and cultic standards that a people, forgiven on the Day of Atonement, are to follow. Our scripture studies for this session and the next come from this Holiness Code, named for its many references to holiness and for its constant cry to “be holy.” Often the proclamation, “I am the Lord your God,” is found at the end.

Now, instead of addressing the priesthood, Moses is told by God to speak to the people (Leviticus 19:1-2). In his first speech (19:3-18) Moses reminds the people of the commands of the Decalogue or Ten Commandments.

After calling them to live a holy life, laws or guidelines for holiness are given. These laws, ranging from the moral to the civil and religious, have been characterized as “the Torah in brief.”

The call to “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy (Leviticus 19:2)” is the key verse introducing the chapters defining what it means to be “holy” in your personal conduct. Besides social ethics (Leviticus 19), there are chapters on worship and family relations (20), the priesthood and the festivals (21-23), and on the Sabbath (25). To be holy is to imitate God or, as we often say, do what Jesus would have us do.

Scripture Commentary - Leviticus 19: 9-18 and 19: 33-37

Leviticus 19: 9-18 explores the areas of social ethics: our concern for the poor (19:9-10), for the truth (19:11-12), for employees (19:13-14), for justice (19:15-16), and for our neighbors (19:17-18).

Leviticus 19:19-36 continues to comment on holiness in a variety of situations including concerns for justice for the alien.

Leviticus 19:9-10.Concern for the Poor. The principle, caring for the less fortunate, is rooted in the Exodus experience where God shows love for the people of Israel when they are both poor and aliens. Grain was cut by grabbing a bundle of stalks in one hand and cutting it with a sickle held in the other. The landowner was asked not to go back over the field to harvest the grain that had fallen nor to harvest the corners of the field. This was to be left for the poor and the resident alien, those who would have little income and little hope of earning a living (see Ruth 2). This guideline deals with greed in the face of plenty. The rule is well constructed: the landlord does not have to pay for the extra grain to be harvested and the poor are given the dignity of working for their needs. (See also Deuteronomy 24:19-22). Rabbis later set a sixtieth of the harvest as the minimum amount for compliance.

Leviticus 19:11-12.Concern for the Truth. We are reminded (8th commandment) not to steal or deceive others. If asked to swear on God’s name that we are telling the truth (and it is a lie), we are dishonoring God’s name. Swearing falsely was used to gain control of someone’s property. The ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16) prohibits this. Stealing leads to deception and to swearing falsely in order to cover up a crime. It is the opposite of loving one’s neighbor (19:18). Justice calls us to maintain the bonds of friendship which are based on trust.

Leviticus 19:13-14.Concern for Employees. This verse has three prohibitions. The theme is taking something from someone else through physical force, or power of position or influence. An example would be holding the day’s wages to the next day thus depriving the worker from purchasing food for his family for the evening meal and the next day’s food. Translated for today an employer may not use for his own profit an accounting practice that works a hardship on his employee’s family. God judges severely those who gain by unfairly treating their workers.

We are not to take advantage of a person who has a handicap, especially the blind and the deaf (Leviticus 19:14). The person seeking to live a holy life will not take advantage of those who suffer from a serious handicap.

Leviticus 19:15-16.Concern for Justice. Since judges and councils, being human, are open to influence from factors other than the merits of a case, Moses warns no favoritism is to be shown to anyone, rich or poor.

Justice, if it is fair, will not even lean in favor of the poor because of feeling sympathy for them. Since God is just, we are called to be just. The inner strength of a people resides in the integrity of its judicial system.

We are not to maliciously spread lies about another (Leviticus 19:16). We are known by our reputations. Malicious gossip destroys our influence and our character. It may even place us in danger possibly of being killed. We are not to place another’s life at risk (“profit by the blood”).

Leviticus 19:17-18.Concern for Our Neighbor. Moses calls us not to hate our family members or relations (19:17). He also warned if we do not reprove someone when we know they are doing wrong, we are as guilty as they are.

Anger and the desire for vengeance distorts one’s thinking so much we may not act fairly (Leviticus 19:18). Scriptures teach that we are to commit our loss to God who will in time hold the guilty accountable. Meanwhile we are to be patient, confident God will right the wrong.

Following these prohibitions, the second of the great commandments is forcefully stated: love your neighbor (the Hebrew word may also be translated: companion, friend, acquaintance or fellow countryman thus meaning every member of the covenant community) as you love yourself. It refers to anyone in Israel with whom you have contact and asks how you are acting toward those who belong to the same group as you do.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) the emphasis is on love that aids another. Jesus expands the circle to include everyone, especially anyone in need.

Leviticus 19:33-37.Justice for the Alien. Since I am 80 you may forgive me for straying from the path here. This passage is preceded (19:32) by the admonition to respect persons with “silvery white hair (literal translation).” Proverbs 16:31 and 20:29 supports this.

Leviticus 19:33-34.Concern for strangers. The Holiness Code calls for special regard for strangers since they were once strangers in a foreign land. The Old Testament contains 36 warnings to Israel to be supportive of aliens, widows, and orphans.

Leviticus 19:35-37.Fairness. Justice means fairness in weights and measures; everything is to be exact. In order to defraud you could have one set of weights for buying and another smaller set for selling thus increasing profits. We are called to act justly in all our transactions. This section ends with the command, “You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them: I am the Lord (Leviticus 9:37).” We are to put into practice the rules given here with the understanding that at this point in time and place, this is what God would have those who believe in him do. The spirit of the laws found here remains. The call to holiness still applies to these areas of life.

A Small Group Bible Study

Scripture Study: Leviticus 19:9-18, 33-37

Key Verses: I am the Lord, and I command you to love others as much as you love yourself (Leviticus 19: 17).

What does God require of us?

Moses answered, “Love people.” Micah answered it this way, God requires us, “to do what is right (justice), to love mercy (treat others fairly), and to walk humbly with your God (love God) (Micah 6:8 NLT).” Jesus summarized it for us in the two great commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets are based on these two commandments (Matthew 22: 37-40).”

The Holiness Code – Leviticus 19:9-18

The Holiness Code (Leviticus 17 to 26) sets out the ethical and cultic rules that people living in a covenant community are to follow. It is named for its many references to holiness and for its constant call to “be holy.” Its proclamations usually end with, “I am the Lord.”

1. What are some reasons that society needs rules?

2. What criteria (other than the Decalogue and our common sense) do we have for determining which rules are eternal and which temporary?

3. Who are some modern-day heroes who fight for justice (Ex. Lawyers, judges, etc.)?

Leviticus - The Book

Although Leviticus is an often neglected book of the Bible, it has always been central to Jewish life. The title, Leviticus, means something like, “Concerning the Levites," the priestly tribe in Israel. The book defines what it means to live in a right relationship with God. It touches the life of everyone who reads it.

Leviticus along with the rest of the Old Testament describes stages in the development of the concept of justice. Scholars call this "progressive revelation," that is, we start with very little information and as the years roll by we become more informed. Although we still see through a glass darkly as Paul put it, the glass is not as dark as it was in Old Testament times. Leviticus, and also to a greater extent the Old Testament, is important because it clarifies the historical, linguistic, and theological background of the New Testament for us. The importance of this particular book, Leviticus, lies in its basic emphasis on the concept of a just God and the people of God as agents of justice.

Holy Living

Moses speaks first to the priests and then the people about holiness in their personal conduct. He reminds them first of the commands of the Ten Commandments and then calls them to live a holy life based on it. He concludes by giving them moral, civil, and religious rules on how to live the holy life (Leviticus 19).

The commandments and prohibitions set forth in Leviticus 19 address five separate concerns: concern for the poor (19:9-10); concern for the truth (19:11-12); concern for employees (19:13-14); concern for justice (19:15-16); concern for our neighbors (19:17-18).

Concern for the Poor – Leviticus 19:9-10

The theme, caring for the less fortunate, is rooted in the Exodus experience where God shows love for the people of Israel when they are both poor and aliens. Grain was cut by grabbing a bundle of stalks in one hand and cutting it with a sickle held in the other. The landowner was asked not to go back over the field to harvest the grain that had fallen nor to harvest the corners of the field. The unharvested grain was to be left for the poor and the resident alien, those who would have little income and little hope of earning a living (Ruth 2). This principle restricts greed in the face of plenty. The rule was well constructed: the landlord does not have to pay for the extra to be harvested and the poor are given the dignity of working for their needs (See also Deuteronomy 24:19-22). Rabbis later set a sixtieth of the harvest as the minimum amount for compliance.

4. In what ways may we leave the “edges of our fields” for those in need?

5. What is our community or church doing in the area of food or shelter provisions for the poor?

6. What programs are provided today in urban areas where no crops are being harvested? Are there programs that are sufficient for the growing number of poor people in urban and rural areas?

Concern for the Truth – 19: 11-12

In the Commandments we are admonished not to steal or deceive others. If asked to swear on God’s name, we are to tell the truth. If we lie, we dishonor God’s name. Stealing leads to deception and to swearing falsely in order to cover up a crime. In a just society we are to love our neighbors (19:18).

7. What were the four examples of unjust actions mentioned in the text?

8. What are some current examples from the news of injustice from stealing or lying?

Concern for Employees – 19: 13-14

We are not to take something from someone else through physical force or power of position or influence. The example given here is withholding the day’s wages to the next day thus depriving the worker from purchasing food for his family for the evening meal and the next day’s food. Therefore it was an act of love to pay them promptly. Translated for today an employer may not use an accounting practice for his own profit that works a hardship on his employee’s family. God judges severely those who gain by unfairly treating workers by paying less than they should. We are not to take advantage of a person who has a handicap, especially the blind and the deaf. If we are seeking to live a holy and just life, we will not take advantage of those who suffer from serious handicaps (19:14).

9. What rules do we need today to regulate businesses (including banks and airlines) so they treat employees and clients fairly?

10. What are the laws calling us to show love by respecting the disadvantaged (deaf or blind or handicapped)?

11. How have these laws impacted your congregation or your business? (Do you have entrance ramps, handrails, handicapped-accessible restrooms?) What could you do to make your church, business, home more welcoming to the physically challenged?

12. Cold someone in a wheelchair attend worship in your sanctuary or class or fellowship hall or your home?

Concern for Justice – 19:15-16

Since judges and councils, being human, may be open to influence from factors other than the merits of a case, Moses warns no favoritism is to be shown to anyone, rich or poor. The inner strength of a people resides in the integrity of its judicial system. We are not to maliciously spread lies about another for to do so is to destroy someone else’s reputation and cause them harm. Occasionally we read of a teenager who has committed suicide because of bullying by other teens. We are warned not to place another’s life at risk (“profit by the blood” 19:16).

13. Discuss how slander can destroy another person. A good example was our recent political campaign.

14. Give some examples of how to deal with bullying?

15. Give some examples of being quick to judge others or to lie to shift the blame on someone else?

Concern for our Neighbors – 19: 17-18

Moses calls us not to hate our family members or relatives. He also warned if we do not reprove someone when we know they are doing wrong, we are as guilty as they are. He warned about seeking revenge because the desire for vengeance distorts our thinking so much we may not act fairly (19:17-18).

After all these prohibitions, he concluded with what we have come to call the second great commandment: love your neighbor (the Hebrew word may also be translated: companion, acquaintance, friend, or fellow countryman thus meaning every member of the covenant community) as you love yourself. In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus expands the circle from neighbor to include everyone, especially anyone in need (Luke 10:25-37).

16. When has someone gone out of his or her way to help you?

17. What motivates people to be fair?

18. Can you recall some Old Testament tales of family tensions resulting from hate or jealousy? How did it affect the families and communities?

Concern for Justice for the Alien – Leviticus 19:33-37

Moses calls us to respect persons with “silvery white hair (literal translation)” for to honor your elders is to honor God. The Code then calls for special treatment for strangers because the Israelites were once strangers in a foreign land. The Old Testament contains at least 36 warnings to be supportive of aliens, widows, and orphans (19:32-34).

Finally, justice includes fairness in weights and measures; everything is to be exact. If you were trying to defraud someone, you might have one set of weights for buying and another smaller set for selling in order to increase your profits. We are called to act fairly in all our transactions (19:35-36).

19. How do you feel when you encounter foreigners, especially those who do not speak your language?

20. If you were our representative in congress, discuss what you would advocate for creating a fair system for dealing with aliens?

Leviticus and the Holiness Code calls us to put into practice the rules given here with the understanding that at this point in time and place, this is what God would have those who believe in him do. The Code is a bold, clear call to just and holy living. The people of the covenant must seek to live a holy life in community with others in order to best witness to our just and holy God.

Conclusion: Love God and Love People

Jesus calls us to love God and love people. Loving God without loving others with whom we share this life is surely an empty response. One of the crucial ways in which we show love for God is through loving people. Again, that seems to be a strange command. How can anyone order us to love someone? Note it is not a command to like people, for that is impossible. We either like them or we don’t. It is a command to love them, that is, to have concern for their well-being, to be compassionate toward those in special need, to desire their fulfillment as children of God, to have sensitivity for their situation, and to treat them fairly.

This call was echoed in the famous poem by Emma Lazarus that is engraved on a tablet within the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and name

Mother of Exiles,

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

21. Anyone ever visited the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island? Invite others to share stories of family members who immigrated to the U.S. through Ellis Island.

Prayer

God of all wisdom, give us the guidance which will allow us to serve you well, lovingly caring for one another and faithfully proclaiming your word in the world. Amen.

Additional Notes for the Leader

This speech (Leviticus 19) on social ethics is a loud, clear, bold call to just and holy living. The people of the covenant must seek to live a holy life in community in order to best serve their just and holy God. This call to holy living has four parts: worshiping God, loving others, practicing justice while doing away with injustice, and avoiding lying.

When Jesus called for perfection, he was making demands similar to the ones found here. Some scholars contend that the book of James is a sermon or series of comments on Leviticus 19:12-18. James (2:8) quotes the second commandment as found in Leviticus 19:18. Paul states it in his letters to the Romans (13:9) and Galatians (5:14).

The call to be holy, since God is holy, is echoed in 1 Peter 1:15-16. Thus we are to conduct ourselves in a way that honors God in the community. Both the old and the new covenants consider holy living to be the highest expression of a believer’s love for God.

*****

Chapter 3 - A Second Chance

Introduction to Leviticus

The Holiness Code The Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-26). sets out the ethical and cultic standards that a people, forgiven on the Day of Atonement, are to follow. The year of Jubilee, Leviticus 25, is part of the Holiness Code. The Holiness Code was named for its many references to holiness and for its constant cry to “be holy.” These proclamations often close with the phrase, “I am the Lord your God.” In the Holiness Code Moses speaks directly to the people instead of the limited conversations with Aaron, the high priest, and his sons found in the first chapters of Leviticus.

“Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy (Leviticus 19:2)” is the key verse in the Holiness Code. The call to be “holy” is followed by a variety of laws governing social ethics (Leviticus 19) the priesthood (20-22), festivals (23), the Table of the Presence (24), the seven year cycles (25), and blessings and curses (26). The Holiness Code concludes (27) with comments on vows, gifts, and tithes that are appended.

The Sabbath Leviticus 23:1-3 opens with a commentary on the Sabbath, a day of rest to be observed weekly on the seventh day. The creation of this day of rest has been a tremendous liberating force in our world. God frees all of us from our daily work in order to worship God. We proclaim the lordship of God over our daily lives by the faithful observance of the Sabbath.

Rest from work is an essential feature of the Sabbath. Relaxation of this rule erodes participation in community events such as festivals and worship. Jesus invites us to find rest in him (Matthew 11:28-30) and Hebrews speaks of the Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:1-11). The Sabbath was a controversial subject for Jesus. He attacked the laws making the day, not one of joy in worship, but of heavy handed rules. Instead of a joyous love of God, some had made the law their God. Today we are called to set aside a day to worship God and recall our corporate memory.

The Festival Calendar. Leviticus 23. In addition to the Sabbath a series of festivals and guidelines for their observance are listed. They are: the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (23:1-8), Feast of Weeks (23:9-22), sounding of the trumpet (23:23-25), the Day of Atonement (23:26-32), and the Feast of Booths (23:33-43). This calendar sets the dates and duration of these five festivals while also providing rules governing them.

Several events in the ministry of Jesus take place during these festivals. In order to better understand the context of Jesus’ teaching about “living water (John 7:37-38),” we need to know about the Feast of Booths in which prayers are asked for water for crops. The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) marks the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem.

Just as the celebration calendar was important then, it is important now. Whenever we celebrate festival events (Easter, Christmas, Pentecost), we build our community memory.


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