God's government or ours
Leviticus 19:1-37 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. 3 Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the Lord your God. 4 Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods; I am the Lord your God…
9 ‘Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.
11 ‘You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.
13 ‘You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. 14 You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. 16 You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the Lord.
17 ‘You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord….
31 ‘Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.
32 ‘You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
33 ‘When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
35 ‘You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. 36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt. 37 You shall thus observe all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them; I am the Lord.’”
In today’s text it says: ‘When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. I have heard this quoted and paraphrased frequently concerning the debate over immigration in our nation. It is important that we keep a few things in mind and understand from the perspective in which this instruction was given before we can apply it in our situation. First we must remember that this is God’s instruction to His people. This was not a governmental policy or law, but rather a religious one. The truth is, for the Jewish people, at that time, God was their government. His law covered every aspect of their lives. We have, in this country, a separation of church and state. Many people don’t understand what that really means. Many try to misuse that principle to prohibit any involvement of religion in government. That is not the intent. The intent was never to keep religion out of government. Rather it was to keep government out of religion. Freedom of religion and freedom to worship is just that, freedom to worship how and where you choose. The purpose of the separation is so that government cannot create a single legal religion. Many today try to misinterpret it to be freedom from religion not religious freedom. Looking back again to the text, recognizing that this is a religious mandate, while it is indeed a good principle, it is not something the government should impose for those who are outside the law and rule of the government. Many of those using this religious principle in the debate over immigration are the very ones who adamantly resist religion or God from being included in our government, or our society as a whole.
In a similar way, I have frequently heard people say that in the Bible God is described as love and light, that it is the church and “religious people” who judge unrighteousness and sin. Surely God is love and God is light. 1 John 1:5 says: This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. Being love and light is not all of who or what God is. Trying to reduce God to those two finite concepts is like portraying a rainbow in black and white. The very fact that God is light and there is no darkness in Him, leads us to what He says in today’s text: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Many people want to embrace the warmth of God’s love and light apart from His command that we be holy. Both within the church and in our culture and society many people pick and choose the scriptures and individual verses that align with their ideology. They attempt to use scripture against the church and believers, having never read it in its entirety. It is sort of like the elementary school student who writes a book report having only read the summary on the jacket. Neither one can truly comment on the context of the book.
There is an idea today that as a culture, a society and even as a government, it is our job or responsibility to be the equalizer. What does it really mean though, to be equal? Does it mean that we should all be the same? Of course not, that is neither possible nor practical. In truth it is not even desirable. To make everyone the same is to eliminate the best in everyone. In today’s text, this is what God says about justice and equality: “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.” Treating people fairly and equally requires that we not look at their social standing, their skin color, or anything else which defines who they are other than as a fellow human. We can’t equalize our society by tearing down those who are at the top, but rather by lifting up those who are down. We will never equalize everyone’s social standing, but we must equalize each one’s human dignity.
The very thing that those who try to create social justice oppose is the only place where it already exists. The kingdom of heaven is where the last shall be first and the least are the greatest. In Matthew 5:3-12 Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
We can strive to try to create a human institution or kingdom which is fair and just, which is based on love and light but no culture or society has accomplished it to date. We could instead enter into and participate with the kingdom of heaven, which as Jesus says, is at hand, it is in our midst. All we need to do is to lay aside our own preferences and ideologies and as God says: “You shall thus observe all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them; I am the Lord”
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth, in our society, our culture, our community and country, as it is in heaven. Amen.