The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is from the third book of the Torah, Leviticus. The text is Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 and is generally the Old Testament lesson assigned to the Sunday of the Reformation. It is interesting to note that verse two of the text is frequently considered to be the Old Testament equivalent of Matthew 5:48 where Jesus says, “You must therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Too often, both verses are understood in the sense of a mandate, a command that complicates the theology of the greater context. Most English versions lean this way. However, this would indicate the LORD God has now placed a burden upon His people that they have no hope of fulfilling and, therefore, removing any hope at all. This is NOT the correct interpretation of Leviticus 19:2 and, I would argue, NOT the correct interpretation for Matthew 5:48 either.

These verses are best understood as a declaration of a state of being or a declaration of identity: “You are holy because I, the LORD your God am holy.” I like to call this a “declarative imperative” (Kleinig calls it a “divine passive” in his Leviticus commentary). Identity is the greater context, the bigger picture pained by Leviticus 19. Following every command and every instruction laid out in this chapter we hear these words: “I am the LORD your God,” or, “I am the LORD.” These are repeated 14 times in this chapter. How can the people hope to carry out these commands? Because…, “I am the LORD your God.” Who can do these things? You can…, “I am the LORD your God.” Due to the reality that the LORD has covenanted with His people and made them His own, now they walk with Him in His holiness. Indeed, as we have seen throughout Exodus, the holiness of the LORD “gets on” His people. They are holy because the bride takes on the attributes of the Bridegroom—an imputed holiness/righteousness.

Due to the reality that the LORD has covenanted with His people and made them His own, now they walk with Him in His holiness.

From our New Testament vantage point, because the LORD has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light, we who once were no people are now the people of God. Now, we are His! By baptism we are the people of God and the Bride of Christ. Therefore, the perfection/holiness of the Bridegroom has indeed made us perfect/holy.

19:1 וַיְדַבֵּר (vay-dab-Ber) Piel: “to speak; to say”

19:2 דַּבֵּר: (dab-Ber) Piel, imperative: “Speak! Say!”

קְדֹשִׁים (ke-do-Shim) “holy ones”

תִּהְיוּ (tih-Yu) root: היה (haw-yaw) Qal: “to be”

“Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘Holy ones you are…”

19:15 עָוֶלI (a-vel) “injustice; unrighteousness; perversity”

דָל (Dal) “poor; helpless; needy”

תֶהְדַּר, (the-Dar) root: הדר (haw-dar) Qal: “to honor; to pay honor to”

עֲמִיתֶךָ (a-mi-Te-cha) “neighbor; fellow citizen; one of the same community”

19:16 רָכִיל (ra-Chil) “slander”

This is the 6th, “I am the LORD/I am the LORD your God,” statement. Again, the people of God can follow these instructions because they have been made holy by the real presence of God in their midst.

19:17 הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ (ho-Che-ach to-Chi-ach) root: יכח (yaw-kahh) Hiphil: “to rebuke; to rebuke strongly; to cause to be reproved directly”

חֵטְא (Chet) “guilt; punishment for sin/wrongdoing”

The Hebrew closely associates “your brother” with “your neighbor” which causes one to wonder about those in the New Testament who ask Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” The Pharisees and Sadducees begin to redefine many of these things from the 2nd Temple on. These are the roots of Rabbinic Judaism.

19:18 תִקֹּם (tik-Kom) root: נקם (naw-kam) Qal: “to avenge oneself; to entertain vengeful ideas/thoughts”

תִטֹּרi (tit-Tor) root: תנטר (naw-tar) Qal: “to bear a grudge toward; to harbor bad feelings; to keep bad thoughts toward”

The last words of our text assigned for today are once again, “I am the LORD.” The LORD is the God of Israel and, therefore, Israel can walk in His paths with holiness and righteousness because His holiness is with them and on them. It is their identity!

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18.

Text Week-Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18.

Lectionary Podcast-Prof. Jeffrey Pulse of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18.