Saturday, July 11, 2009

LEVITICUS: Chapter 19

Chapter 19
Summary:God speaks to Moses telling him to tell the people of Israel that they must be "holy", because God himself is "holy". The people must fear their mothers and fathers and keep and observe God's sabbath days. The people are reminded again that they are not to turn to or create idols, or "molten gods".

When a person offers a "peace offering" animal sacrifice, they shall do so at their own accord but follow God's rules. It shall be eaten the same day it is offered, or the following day at the latest. If any remains on the third day it must be burned. If any of it is eaten on the third day, God considers it "abominable", and the sacrifice will not be accepted. Any one eating on the third day shall be guilty of "sin", as they have profaned the "holiness" of God, and the person will be excommunicated.

When a person harvests their crops, they are not to reap the corners of their field, nor pick up any stray grains of wheat from the ground. The person is also not to glean all of the grapes from their vineyard, nor to gather any grapes that have fallen to the ground. These are to be left for the poor and those traveling through.

God also instructs the people of Israel not to lie to, steal from, or defraud one another. The people must also not swear by God's name falsely, nor profane God's name.

A person must not defraud, oppress, or rob anyone you they have hired of the wages the employee has earned, and they are to promptly pay them.

A person is not to curse the deaf or trip up a blind man, or they shall fear the wrath of God for doing so.

Judges should never do unrighteousness their judgment, and should have no regard to the defendant's wealth or lack thereof. Only in regards to righteousness shall one judge their neighbor.

A person is not to earn a reputation as a talebearer or gossiper, nor shall a person falsely accuse their neighbor.

A person shall not hate their brother in their heart, but shall rebuke their sins or they will suffer upon them as well.

A person shall not avenge nor bear any grudge against the children of their people, and shall love their neighbor as they do themselves.

God says that the people shall keep his laws, and shall not breed their cattle with a different kind, they shall not sow their fields with mingled seeds, nor shall they wear garments mingled with both linen and wool.

Whomever has sexual relations with a slave girl who is engaged to another but not yet married, she shall be scourged (whipped), but neither shall be put to death - because she was not a free woman. The man will have to bring a "guilt offering" of a ram to the door at the entrance to the tabernacle. The priest shall make atonement for him by slaughtering the ram for the "sin" he has committed, and the "sin" shall be forgiven.

When the people have settled in the "promised land" and begin planting trees for their fruit, the first three years of fruit shall be considered "uncircumcised" and shall not be eaten. The fourth year all of the fruit is considered "holy" and must be sacrificed to God, as the fruit "belongs to him". Finally in the fifth year, the fruit the people have planted may finally be eaten.

People may not eat anything with or containing blood; neither shall they use enchantment nor observe times.

Men must not "round the corners of their heads" (meaning trimming off the hair on your temples) or mar the corners of their beards. People must also not make any cutting in their flesh in connections with funeral rights, nor print any mark upon their flesh.

People are not to prostitute their daughters, lest the land become overrun with whoredom and wickedness.

God reminds the people again to observe his sabbath days and to also have reverence for his sanctuary in the tabernacle.

The people are not to regard other people who have "familiar spirits", nor to seek after wizards, lest they be defiled by them.

People shall rise up and honor the elderly, fearing God if they do not.

If you have a visitor to your land, you are not to wrong them, but to treat them as if they were born in the land themselves - remembering that you were strangers yourselves in the land of Egypt.

People shall be honest in their judgment in the measurements of length, weight, and volume. Proper balances, weights, and such shall you use - reminding the people again that God himself is their god that had brought them out of the land of Egypt. Therefore the people should observe and obey all of God's laws.
Thoughts:This chapter, although peppered with a few questionable rules in places, is actually generally one of the nicer chapters in the bible. I find this a little odd as it stands in stark contrast to most of the rest of the book of Leviticus which deals with vilifying the people of Israel as "sinful" people who need to sacrifice animals for a variety of trivial offenses such as a woman simply menstruating. There are actually many verses here in this chapter that are very positive and instill a sense of community spirit among the people of Israel that is still relevant to today's society. However, we start will off a little slow in that regard with God being a bit of his typical self for the first eight verses.

God begins listing some more rules to Moses explaining that because God himself is "holy", that means that the people of Israel need to become "holy" as well. He begins by saying the people need to be "fearful" of their parents and to continue to observe God's sabbath days (something that is repeated ad-naseum throughout the chapter). They are not to turn to, or create idols, or "molten gods".

When people sacrifice animals for a "peace offering", God restates his demands that the animal's meat is not to be eaten after the second day since it had been sacrificed. The third day the remains need to be burned, and those who eat any of the "peace offering" on the third day (or afterward, I'd assume) is guilty of a "sin", has profaned God, and will be excommunicated.

God finally makes a very noble and generous law, stating that when a person harvests their crops that they are to leave a little for the poor and for anyone traveling through town. They are not to reap the crops on the corners of the field or pick up any stray grains, or grapes from their vineyards, that may have fallen to the ground. These surplus crops are to be left behind for the poor and for travelers.

He continues on in this vein, stating that people are not to lie to, steal from, or defraud other people, before tacking on that the people must not ever swear falsely by God's name or "profane" it by any means. God has a bizarre arrogance about how his name is to be used in human speech and seems to get rather vindictive if his name isn't used properly for some reason.

God continues on with another few honorable laws stating that people are not to defraud, oppress, or rob any employee of the wages they've earned, adding on that one should also pay their employees promptly. He also adds that people are not to curse or discriminate against the deaf or the blind, or they will face the wrath of God for doing so.

God states that judgments must be impartial and fair, and they are not to be swayed by the wealth - or lack thereof - of a defendant. People are also not to gossip or falsely accuse other people.

People also should not hate their neighbors if they "sin", but should rebuke their sin lest they be guilty themselves. Unfortunately, I feel a little torn about this law in itself. Even taking my problems with the notion of "sin" aside, I do agree that people should not hate other people - even if they have broken a law or made a mistake. We're all human, and even those with the best of intentions can occasionally do the wrong things or break laws. Regardless of intent, it is never right to persecute people. That isn't to say that people who have done wrong shouldn't be dealt justly with, however justice is not a set of rules set forth by a single solitary ruler - in this case God, but this applies equally as well for any human dictator as well. Justice is very conditional upon what is in the best interests for a group of people at large, and excessive punishments such as stoning people to death for working on a Saturday, is not dealing with a law "justly" by any means. By the wording of God's law here, someone sticking up for John Doe who is about to be brutally killed for having worked on a Saturday should not also be dragged out and stoned for not "rebuking" John's "sin".

God continues on a much better track by stating that people are not to seek vengeance, or bear grudges, and that they are treat their fellow man as they would themselves. This may possibly be the best verse the bible has to offer, and something I am in complete agreement with.

God however follows this up with a strange law insisting that people are not to cross breed either their cattle or their crops, and even stranger, that garments that are to be worn are not to be made out of both linen and wool. What purpose this law serves is completely lost on me, unless it is warning that the offspring of crossbred animals tend to be sterile - how this would extend to crops and clothing is even more puzzling.

Unfortunately, God's "good laws" are pretty much done for this chapter and he follows things up with this gem about what to do about people having sex with female slaves. If a man has sex with a female slave who is engaged to another man, neither shall be put to death (God's usual punishment for adultery) because the slave girl is not a free person. However, the slave girl shall be flogged with a whip, while the man will have to bring a ram for an an animal sacrifice at the tabernacle and all we be forgiven. So, the woman gets her punishment commuted from a stoning to being scourged, yet the man can walk away after he gives a ram to a priest to be slaughtered - demonstrating yet another example of misogyny in the bible.

God comes up with another strange law concerning fruit trees, stating that when the people of Israel are finally led to their "promised land", they are not to reap any of the fruit for the first three years, as apparently God considered the fruit "uncircumcised" during these first three years. On the fourth year, the fruit is fine, but God is claiming it for himself and demands that it be brought to the tabernacle for a "sacrifice". From the fifth year on, it's finally okay to eat the fruit from the trees you've planted.

God now reminds people again that people are not to eat anything containing blood, possibly alluding to that all animals that are to be eaten need to be drained of their blood beforehand. He follows this up in the same sentence with banning the people from using "enchantment" and from "observing times". Most likely this is another xenophobic attack on staying away from other "pagan" religions, but can be construed many ways if the two parts of the sentence are taken separately. Most curious is God forbidding the "observing [of] time", which is commonly thought to mean "fortune telling", but is also vague enough to encompass possibly the usage of calendars, sundials, and clocks.

God now dictates men's fashions by forbidding them from shaving the hair away from their temples (unless they contract and are "healed" of leprosy, where they must shave their entire head, eyebrows, and facial hair) or trimming the corners of their beards. In addition God bans any flesh cutting that is connected to funeral rights, and tattoos in general.

Men are not allowed to prostitute their daughters because it will turn the land into a whoredom of wickedness. (However, nothing is mentioned about women who turn to prostitution on their own, which I'm sure that God probably frowns upon as well.) He follows this up with another reminder that he demands that his sabbath days are to be obeyed (over-stressing the importance of this law) and that the people must have reverence for his tabernacle that they built for him.

God's next law states that people are not to "regard other people who have familiar spirits" (most commonly thought to mean the consultation of spiritual medium) nor to seek out wizards. Doing so will defile the person.

God round out the rest of his laws with a few final "good laws". People are to respect and honor their elders (or face God's wrath if they do not), to treat visitors in their land the same as they do their neighbors (reminding them again that they themselves were "strangers" when they lived in Egypt), and to be honest in their treatment of measurements. He furthers that the people are to use proper measurement tools for lengths, weights, and volume - before yet again strangely reminding them that he's the same god who led them out of Egypt, so therefore everyone has to obey all of these laws.

This last part is a bit troubling to me as it implies that being saved or rescued somehow means that the people being saved are somehow indebted to their rescuer without argument. Following this argument, would a person rescued by perhaps a criminal have to repay their debt by doing something that might go against their morals?

If a woman has a flat tire and a creepy man stops to help her change her tire, if he asks for a sexual favor afterward is the woman indebted to oblige him? Of course not, it's ridiculous to place that kind of expectation upon someone after the fact, just because the woman happened to have been in need before he helped her. There is a difference between making your expectations known before and after the fact. If the creep above offered to change the woman's tire on the condition that she give him some sort of sexual favor, she could either turn the man down (perhaps calling the police afterward) and deal with her flat tire herself, or she can choose to accept the man's offer - at perhaps the expense of her morals or dignity - if she was desperate enough, or if she placed little value upon the sexual favor as harming her morals or dignity.

While it may seem that I'm making a rather harsh comparison between the sexual pervert in my example and a god that most people view as "benevolent" and "loving" (despite that I tend to disagree with both of those descriptions) the point is that the people of Israel are being given these laws after the fact, and therefore it's not very ethical of God to keep rubbing in that line of "I'm the guy who got you out of your slavery in Egypt, so you need to follow my laws" every time he hands out his demands. Maybe some of the Israelis might not have went along with the "Exodus" if they might have known what they were getting into ahead of time. If God gave these laws to Moses before the "Exodus from Egypt" and told the Israelis, "Hey, God's going to rescue you guys from your slavery, but once we're out of here, he's got a couple of laws that he want you all to follow..." maybe not all of the Israelis would have agreed to go along with it.

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