15 July 2013

“You shall not strip your vineyards bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.” (v. 10)


Chapter 19 of Leviticus seeks to answer the question raised by verse 2, "You shall be holy". It is part of the Holiness Code (Leviticus chapters 17-26) which invites the whole people of God - not just the priests addressed in Leviticus chapters 1-16 - to live out the call to holiness. The code makes clear the link between ethics and ritual, establishing that both are necessary for holiness.

The first section of this chapter alludes to several of the Ten Commandments (verses 2-4). After this, there are instructions for the sacrifice of well-being (verses 5-8). The third part focuses on harvest and specifically on the care of the vulnerable (verses 9-10).  In other places, the law is meticulous in its detailed instruction. But in the teaching about the harvest it appears to encourage a certain carelessness. This is a gentle approach to harvesting, which makes room for the birds and animals, for the Ruths and Naomis (Ruth 2), whose story is echoed in Psalm 126.

Each set of teachings is concluded with the barest statement: I am YHWH your God. The name of God is considered reason enough for the people to keep the law. The law is to be trusted and honoured because it is given in the presence of God. It is the means by which God calls people into relationships of care, justice and forgiveness.

The divine name YHWH is usually not pronounced within the Jewish tradition. Instead, when reading out loud, the divine name is often replaced by "Adonai", meaning Lord. For this reason, English translations use the word Lord (sometimes written in small capitals) in place of the divine name. But the God of whom the Hebrew Bible speaks is not reducible to Lord. Rather this God is the one who is and is becoming, the one who brings all things into life, the one who will be.

To Ponder

  • How do you seek to be holy?
  • Where is there mess in your own life? How might God be working through that mess?
  • How might you live generously in the world, so as to leave room for others?

Bible notes author:  Rachel Starr

  • Sign up for e-newslettersKeep in touch with what interests you