Many of the laws in today’s readings exist to distinguish God’s people from the rest of the world. God’s people are supposed to be different because they are called to be “a kingdom of priests”, which means they’re supposed to be God’s representatives to all of humanity. Everything they do, from the way they harvest their crops to the way they style their hair must be different, and must be done with care.
- 19:9-10 – This was an ancient way of assuring the poor had food; every field, orchard and vineyard would have extra grain or fruit in it after the harvest that the poor could take for themselves. One more way in which God’s laws reflect his compassion, love and mercy.
- 19:13-14 – Care for people with special needs
- 19:23-24—This might be intended to help them show restraint and avoid decadence, but it also helps ensure that the fruit trees have time to mature and time to reproduce and grow more fruit trees. Leviticus is full of little passages like this: seemingly random laws about how to harvest crops and treat animals that force the Israelites into practices that are both responsible and compassionate when they harvest food from God’s creation. In other words, God seems to care deeply about how his people treat the rest of his creations.
- 19:27 – This is why Hassidic Jews have the long, dangling, curly side burns and beards. Presumably, this is a way to make sure that God’s people are visually distinct from the surrounding culture
- 20: 1-5—Molech was god in the Canaanite religion that would continue to see massive popularity in the Mediterranean well into Roman times. People worshipped Molech by building bronze statues of him with outstretched hands; they would heat the statue with fire and, once it was red-hot, they would take a human infant and place it in the statues hands- effectively cooking it alive. The incredible cruelty and barbarism of this practice is why God is so vehemently opposed to it in this text, and also one of the reasons why God later orders Joshua to destroy the Canaanite civilization. (The image below is a representation of a statue of Molech during a ritual sacrifice)
- 20:10-21—Recent debates have drawn our focus almost exclusively to verse 13, but it’s important to remember that when it comes to sexuality God has high standards and commands the same degree of punishment for any of the sexual sins listed in verses 10-16, with a slightly milder punishment (though it’s still quite severe) for the sins listed in verses 17-21.