OT Encounters: A New Identity

By Jeff Pulse

The Old Testament text for this Sunday, October 29, 2017, comes from the third book of the Torah, Leviticus. The text is Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18. Verse 2 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 of these verses are understood in the sense of a mandate, a command. Most English translations lean this way. However, this would indicate that the LORD God has now placed a burden upon His people which they have no hope of fulfilling, and therefore, no hope whatsoever. This is NOT the correct interpretation of Leviticus 19:2, and I would argue, NOT correct for Matthew 5:48 either.

These verses are best understood as a declaration of a state of being—a declaration of identity: “You are holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” Identity is the bigger picture given 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 any of 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 this exodus, the holiness of the LORD “gets on” His people. They are holy because the bride takes on the attributes of the Bridegroom.

From our New Testament vantage point, because the LORD has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light, we are now 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.

19:15  awel—“injustice; unrighteousness”

            Dal—“poor: helpless; needy”

            Thedar—root: hadar—“to honor: pay honor to”

       Amitheka—from: amith—“neighbor; fellow citizen; one from the same community”

19:16  rakil—“slander”

Now we have the sixth “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 the LORD in their midst.

19:17  koeach  tokiach—root: yakach—hiphil—“to rebuke strongly” “…cause to be reproved directly.”

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 second temple on. These are the roots of Rabbinic Judaism.

             Chete—“guilt; punishment for wrongdoing/sin”

19:18  thiqom—root: naqam—“to avenge oneself” ( also, to think about revenge, or have vengeful feelings)

            Thitor—root: natar—“to have/bear a grudge; to harbor/keep bad feelings”

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

One thought on “OT Encounters: A New Identity

  1. I have occasionally thought about statements like this in a similar way. Even the Ten Cmdts are written in this way, with imperfects (most of them anyway). That seems to be, at least, an indication of a future state of being at God’s hand. In the OT Moses stuff it always seems to me a state of being that will come to be in the Promised Land, since they’ll be his there – in proper relationship with him there; Law and Gospel in full play in such a relationship. Then you might think it was an assurance of things to come with God. The word from Jesus in Matthew 5 is written in exactly the same way – a future tense for being.

    I don’t think it can be entirely dismissed as Law though. The Hebrews certainly take it that way, along with many very expert translators. I have often wondered if these things might be specifically given to God’s people as 3rd use of the Law, showing a way that they ought to be, and one day will be according to God’s own aspirations for us.

    I like the train of thought very much. Thinking outside the lexical magic box is important sometimes.


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