16 July 2013

Leviticus 19:11-18

“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself.” (v. 17)


Encouraging and exploring what it means to be holy continues to be the focus of this chapter. The priestly compliers of these instructions were well aware of the damaged caused by a lack of honesty, openness and integrity. This is what these rules seek to guard against. A community in which things are not as they appear is difficult to negotiate and live it. Trust falters. A community in which people say one thing but mean another, or shape their words to win themselves favour, is unsustainable. Things fall apart.

This set of teachings is once again concerned with those who are less able to defend themselves. In a section on slander and lies, it calls specific attention to the sin of cursing or verbally abusing those who cannot hear. The deaf may not know to respond to angry, harmful words, but, the reader is warned, God will know and act in judgement. This is very much in line with the wider biblical narrative which tells of a God whose ear and heart are inclined towards the oppressed and marginalised. For this reason, the instruction to show no partiality in the courtroom jars slightly. But here the text remains consistent - nothing should prevent the truth being told, neither need nor privilege.  Even so, justice must always be contextual, and so the text prompts questions about how justice might flourish in each different circumstance.

The command to love your neighbour as yourself is a familiar one to both Jewish and Christian readers. On various occasions it is used to sum up the law, as the necessary compliment to the command to love God. Yet, the idea that to love your neighbour might involve rebuking them is fraught with problems. We would often rather keep quiet and not risk falling out with our neighbours (especially those with which we share fences, lifts or corridors). How can we be sure that our criticism comes from love and not envy, fear or a sense of self-righteousness? But the teaching reminds us that not reproving means not caring. For the community of faith to function, all must seek to live rightly before God and their fellow humans. And when they fail to do so, the response is not to claim righteousness over one's neighbour but to continue to love them and watch out for them.

To Ponder

  • Why do you think it is hard to be truly honest with ourselves and with others?
  • What might it mean today to profit from some else's blood (verse 16)?
  • Can you think of a time when you were able to let go of a grudge? What helped you to do so?

Bible notes author

Rachel Starr

Rachel Starr is the Methodist tutor at The Queen's Foundation for ecumenical theological education in Birmingham, where she teaches studies in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Before that she spent three years in Buenos Aires completing doctoral studies at the Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos (Instituto Universitario ISEDET).