Proper 10 • Leviticus (18:1–5); 19:9–18 • July 11, 2010
By Dr. Thomas Manteuful
A Bible Study
What statement is made repeatedly here to help God’s people remember and take to heart what is said?
It is “I am the Lord your God,” sometimes abbreviated: “I am the Lord.” It tells the people of God that they are his special possession, redeemed and governed by him.
What does this remembrance call for, according to Leviticus 19:2 and other passages?
God’s people are to be holy, for which he makes his own being the standard.
What is holiness?
It refers to being set apart. God is holy because he is exalted and transcendent over all. This has a moral dimension, since it includes being set apart from sinners, in absolute purity. So God’s people are to be set apart for God and consecrated to serving Him. The moral dimension of his holiness is the standard for their lives, as manifested in the examples of moral injunctions and prohibitions given in this pericope.
How can this remembrance be a painful one?
It will be, if considered apart from the Gospel truth, since we never satisfy all that is demanded in the commands in this text and elsewhere. Apart from the Gospel, the Law always accuses us, as the Apology says (IV, 166–7 in Tappert, also indicated on p. 148 in Kolb-Wengert). The people in the time of the Old Testament Scriptures could not gain eternal life by obeying the holy demands, as the wise among them said (e.g., Ps 65:3; 106: 6; 1 Kgs 8:46; Eccl 7:20). Nor can anyone since then, Romans 3:20.
How can the remembrance be one that cheers and comforts?
It will in the light of the Gospel, since then the remembrance of the holy God includes knowledge of his will that sinners be reconciled to him—and of what he has mercifully done to bring this about.
How is it possible for a just and holy God to declare sinners righteous?
Some hearers in the congregation may recognize this Gospel question as one they have used in Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (No. 182 in 1991 ed.). The answer: “God declares sinners righteous for Christ’s sake, that is, our sins have been imputed or charged to Christ, the Savior, and Christ’s righteousness has been imputed or charged to us. 2 Corinthians 5:21.” This also is part of the remembrance of our holy God: reconciliation through faith in Jesus Christ is in conformity with the demands of divine holiness. He, the holy God-man, was the only one who was perfectly obedient to the Law, and his obedience and penalties are imputed to those who trust in him. The promised atonement of the Messiah was the ultimate basis of reconciliation also for Isaiah’s people (Is 53:5–6) and Abraham’s (Gn 12:3; 15:6; Gal 3:6–10).
Why was it a helpful remembrance for the Old Testament Israel to hear God saying to them, “I am the Lord your God”?
He was their God, because they belonged to him (Dt 7:6–7), whom they knew chiefly as their deliverer from oppression (Lv 11:45; 19:36; etc.). Taken seriously, this was remembrance fruitful in loving praise and service, consecrated to him in grateful recognition of his love shown in acts of deliverance.
How does the Epistle for the Day (Col 1:1–14) help us New Testament believers in Christ to use ancient Israel’s remembrance?
We have supreme deliverance through him and have been brought into the community of the holy people, or saints, and so are truly part of the Israel of God (vv. 12–13). Furthermore, we too are called to live a life worthy of (i.e., appropriate to) such a deliverer, by being fruitful in good works (v. 10). If we take this seriously, we are deeply moved to live in imitation of him and his love (Eph 5:1-2; Jn 15:12; 1 Tm 2:1–6), and in confidence and joy before the holy God (Rom 5:1)
Why was the remembrance in the Old Testament pericope helpful and fruitful for ancient Israel in obeying the divine commands?
It was an encouraging remembrance of their God’s promised help for living the new life—of his will to restore and edify them. The Old Testament people knew, or were reminded, that they could not flawlessly keep the commands of the Law, because of the sinful flesh (e.g., Ps 51:5; Jb 5:7). But the wise also had the knowledge that God gives help for the obedient life, seen in many prayers for him to lead, guide, open lips, incline hearts, or turn (e.g., Ps 5:8; 25:5; 31:3; 51:15; 119:3, 35–37; 1 Kgs 8:57–58). They were familiar with his gifts of renewal and the creative work of his Spirit (Ps 51:10–11).
Why is this remembrance helpful for the New Testament people of God?
Believers in the days of the Messiah have still clearer and fuller revelations of their God’s promises of help for the obedient life, both in Messianic prophecies (such as Ez 36:26–27 and Jer 24:7) and in disclosures of their own times (like Jn 7:38–39; 1 Cor 6:11; Gal 5:22-23; Rom 8:13–14). In these bestowals the image of God is being restored in his people (Col 3:8–10; Eph 4:24–32) to transform them, and thus the Lord himself brings about the fulfillment of the command to be holy like him.
Can the promise of Leviticus 18:5 ever be applied by earning eternal life with God, as the lawyer in the Gospel for the day (Lk 10:25–28) thought?
The Lord Jesus answered his question by indicating that the promise applies if you perfectly serve the neighbor with a whole heart. His parable showed the lawyer’s (and our) failure to do so. St. Paul lamented with all his heart that his fellow Jews were wandering down this false path in their thinking (Rom 10:1–5).
Does this mean that this well-known parable should not be used at all for commending obedience to God’s Law?
By no means! But the Law’s command to help the neighbor must be understood in a proper way: not as one way to merit eternal life, but rather as the way of life in which it is worthy (appropriate) for the children of God to walk, as they express Christian inward delight (Rom 7:22) in what God’s Law calls for.
How is the remembrance in the Old Testament pericope productive for the holy work of helping the neighbor?
It is also a remembrance of the relation with the neighbor which the holy God wants us to have. Whether it is the relation with the neighbor in the church as a fellow believer and servant of Jesus, or the relation with the neighbor outside the church, even the alien to the community of believers and saints, we recognize that each person is an object of his love, as each of us is in this world of sinners, for all of whom the Savior died. Each is a person with needs and problems, physical and spiritual. We are to help and avoid hurting them, as much as we can, and we should not lose sight of the Lord’s desire that all share the joy that his people have (1 Tm 2:3–4).
Can Leviticus 19:18 and 34 be misused as encouragement of a self-centered, self-gratifying approach to the religious life?
Of course they can, and pastors and teachers should admonish against such misuse and misconceptions of what “loving yourself” might be. But on the other hand gratefulness for deliverance and empathy arising from memories of afflictions common to us and to others—are proper components of the obedience which Moses and the Lord Jesus (Mt 23:39) are calling for in the lives of God’s people.
The Fruitful Remembrance
I. This is a remembrance that calls for God’s people to be holy.
A. Considered apart from the Gospel, it is a painful remembrance.
B. But in the light of the Gospel it is a remembrance of the will of our holy God that we be reconciled to him.
II. It is also a remembrance that is fruitful for a holy life.
A. It is a grateful remembrance that is fruitful in loving praise and service.
B. It is an encouraging remembrance of his promised help for living the new life.
C. It is a productive remembrance of the relation between the child of God and the neighbor.