Leviticus 19 and the Messianic Age

The sons of this age often lack creativity in seeing the messianic, the next-worldly, in the Torah. Though I cannot at the moment cite examples, those who read the Sages regularly can attest: the sons of their age showed great creativity in seeing features of the world to come in the Torah. (I say I cannot cite examples at the moment: this is because, in spite of my best efforts, my duties keep limiting my time for study and writing these days–but normalcy is coming soon).

Leviticus 19 is the holiness chapter. If nothing else, it is famous for two reasons: “you shall be holy as I am holy” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

It is a vision which ultimately brings us into a vision of the world to come. It is an ethic which is well-represented in Yeshua’s teaching. Holiness is not duty. It is exceeding duty by imitating God who gives more kindness than is required, who calls us to spiral ever upward into greater love and justice surpassing all legal requirements.

Jacob Milgrom notes that Leviticus 19 alludes several times to the Decalogue (Ten Commandments). The chapter, like the Ten Commandments, is about the epitome of righteousness (in this case, holiness).

Leviticus 19 is an explanation of what true goodness looks like. It’s issues are as follows:

Introduction: Imitatio Dei (“Be holy as I am holy”) (2).
Revere parents (3).
No idols (4).
How to treat sacred meat (5-8).
Leavings for the needy (9-10).
Honesty (11-12).
Justice for the helpless (13-14).
Impartial justice and protecting your neighbor’s reputation (15-16).
Love and forsaking vengeance (17-18).
Mixtures reserved for the sacred (19).
Protections for a vulnerable slave woman (20-22).
Fruit of the land (23-25), separation from death (26-28).
Protection of children from concubinage (29).
Honor Sabbath and sanctuary (30).
Avoidance of the death cult (31).
Honoring the elderly (32).
Protecting aliens and helpless (33-34).
Honesty in scales and business (35-36).
Conclusion: Keep all God’s statutes (37).

The only organizing theme of the chapter is the holiness of the land. The goal is a place where life is different.

The definition of holiness is what is interesting and what has captured the minds of interpreters in the past. God says, “Imitate me; be disciples of my ways and treat others according to my pattern giving more good than is deserved and requiring less than the payment I could exact.”

What is the end result of a land where people live up to a standard that is higher than legal requirement, a land in which people imitate God?

If God would go beyond the merely required, so must his loyal followers. The law, conceived this way, is not merely about legal requirements. It is about an ever-improving world, guided by love, justice, and kindness. The land of Israel should be filled with such love. The vision for holiness suggests a vision for Israel as an alternative to the lands of evil, an ideal land of love and justice. It is not difficult to move from this vision into the ideal of the messianic age.

For one thing, this ethic of imitating God and going beyond legal requirements is often reflected in the teaching of Yeshua. Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. If you are friendly only to your friends, are you doing anything out of the ordinary?

And the ethic of building a land in which holiness is achieved and all live in imitation of God is reflected in the teaching of Yeshua. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.

Leviticus 19 should result in an ever-upward spiral. First your sense of justice and love spreads to the legally required categories. Don’t cheat in commerce. Don’t steal. Be faithful to God and stay away from all other gods. Then your sense of justice and love are challenged to push beyond the norms of society: protect the alien, reserve your excess for the needy. And ultimately there is no end to the spiral: be holy as I am holy, say the Lord.

It is a beatific vision. In the world to come there will be no aliens. No slave women will be vulnerable. There will be no blind before whom to put a stumbling block. All will be neighbors. There will be no death cult as there will be no death. This will be the result as the children of God imitate God in holiness.

“Observe my statutes,” says God, “for I am the Lord.”

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4 Responses to Leviticus 19 and the Messianic Age

  1. Lisa W says:

    This is my most favorite portion of all of Scripture, I think. Nothing else affects me quite like Kedoshim does. I’m left speechless and in tears of joy and longing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – I am really looking forward to this Sabbath!!

  2. James says:

    I hate to bring this up, but I’m studying Kedoshim for this coming Shabbat. You seem to be applying your teaching today to an audience of both Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah, yet, as you say, the “only organizing theme of the chapter is the holiness of the land” and non-Jews have no inheritance in the land. I agree that the overarching message being related is one of imitating our Master by doing kindness, honoring our parents and the aged, being honest, protecting the helpless, and so forth, but not every act of holiness as described in Leviticus 19 applies to non-Jews, particularly outside of Israel.

    Since Gentiles have their connection to the Torah and to God in relation to the Messiah, we are only linked to the commandments by what he taught us to obey (Matthew 28:19-20). In a few weeks, I’ll be finished teaching a class based on what Yeshua taught to the Gentiles and while I can reliably conclude that he taught justice, kindness, and mercy, I can’t see that he expected the Gentile disciples to completely mirror the Jewish disciples, which means we Gentiles (not addressing you of course, Derek) cannot completely emulate our Master.

    • Derek Leman says:

      James:

      Torah is specifically about Israel (the people) and the land. But many things apply generally. The general thrust of Leviticus 19 concerns universal righteousness (love, justice) and a few things here are signs of Israelite identity (Sabbath). Furthermore, the land of Israel and God’s ideals for it are in general about his ideals for the whole world so that the ideal in the land is a foreshadowing not just of Israel to come but the world to come.

      Derek

  3. Pingback: Holiness Theology in Leviticus | Messianic Jewish Musings

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