Bible Reading Plan – February 5-11

Leviticus Poster

Bible Project Reading Plan (February 5-11):
Leviticus 19-27; Numbers 1-10; Psalm 36-42

Leviticus 19 opens with a famous charge, given by God to his people:

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy (Lev 19:2)

The chapter then goes on to list various ways in which the people are to be holy, set apart, and upright before their God. They are to be conscious of God’s holiness (vv. 5-8), of the poor in the land (vv. 9-10); they are to avoid cheating of all kinds (vv. 11-16); they are to love their neighbors as themselves (vv. 17-18).

This last verse is famously summarized by Christ in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The exchange in Luke 10 is as follows:

Then an expert in the law stood up to test him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the law?” he asked him. “How do you read it?” He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind;” and “your neighbor as yourself.”

“You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus took up the question and said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

“The one who showed mercy to him,” he said. Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:25-37, CSB17)

The odd thing about Jesus’ answer is that it features an understanding of “neighbor” that appears, at first glace, out of place in Leviticus.  A neighbor there seems to be those who are more readily identified as “brothers.” The verses that sandwich the famous verse 18 bear this out. In verse 17, God stipulates that “you are not to hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor” – a statement that seems to equate “neighbor” with “brother.” What’s more, in the following verses, God warns against certain kinds of mixing – do not breed cattle of different kinds, do not sow fields with different kinds of seed, do not wear clothes with different kinds of fabrics.  These injunctions seem to point at the necessary purity of the Israelite people; they are not to be mixed with the surrounding cultures. Thus, Leviticus 19:18 seems to be interested in the brotherhood of Israel; not just any neighbor.

But, Jesus is, of course, not wrong in his interpretation. God does indeed care about the particularity of Israel; that is part and parcel of what being holy means. But God was also kind to them when they were strangers and sojourners in Egypt. Thus, they are also to be kind to those who sojourn with Israel: “you shall love him as yourself.” Their love cannot stop at their borders, but they must love the other even while they hold a special love for their brothers. Why? Because God did just that, caring for them while they were in Egypt (v. 34). Yes, have a special love for the household of God, but do not forget that God loved us even when we were sinners (Rom 5:8)

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith (Gal 6:10; CSB17).