Leviticus 19 and Isaiah 15

Read Leviticus 19 and Isaiah 15 today.

This devotional is about Leviticus 19.

Leviticus 19 contains a large number of commands on various topics. The passage begins with a call for God’s people to emulate his character: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”’” Every command in this chapter flows from the holiness of God.  If you want to know God, you must also desire to become holy. This chapter gives some specific ways in which holiness works out in the life of a believer.

Being “holy” simply means “set apart.” God is set apart from humanity in two ways: First, he is Creator and we are the created. There is a distinction between the Creator and creature that we can never cross. As Creator, God has certain qualities that we can’t understand, much less emulate. These are things like knowing all things, having all power, being everywhere present in the fullness of his being, and others. These are qualities that only God can have; they are one way in which God holy.

Usually, though, when we talk about God’s holiness, we are talking about his moral perfection. God is set apart from people in the sense that he is perfect morally. He has no sinful desires or actions. God did create us to emulate this quality. Adam and Eve began with a perfect moral nature; if they had refused the temptation offered to them in the garden, humanity would have existed in moral holiness just as God did. Since we chose to sin, however, we are unholy.

In Christ believers are declared to be holy and God’s Holy Spirit is working us over morally so that we become more holy like Jesus was, but it is an ongoing process that does not reach completion until we see Christ.

When God commanded Israel to be holy (v. 2), he was commanding them to set themselves apart from the nations around them. That required faith that living according to God’s commands would be better than living according to the ways that were common and their natural moral instincts. Many of the commands here in Leviticus 19 are easily understood as categories of holiness—either moral holiness, such as “no idols” in verse 4, or cultural holiness, such as “do not mate two different kinds of animals” in verse 19.

But what do you make of the command, “do not reap to the very edges of your field… leave them for the poor and the foreigner”? In what way does this command flow from the holiness of God?

The answer is this: God affirmed the righteousness of private property rights in verse 11a where he said, “Do not steal.” That command tells us people have a right to private ownership and that it is morally wrong to take, either by force or by deception, any property that justly belongs to someone else.

Our capitalist system is built on private property rights. Not only do you have the right to own productive assets (land, flocks, woodworking tools, trucks, whatever), you have the right to use those assets in ways that are productive. You also have the right to keep the products of that production and sell those products for a profit. That’s why people are allowed to own land, farm land, harvest, and sell what they have planted.

However, God wanted his people to show generosity to the poor. Unlike other nations where the poor had to beg, borrow, or steal to live, God affirmed the right of his people to private property and to the cultivation of wealth but he also wanted them to be different from the nations around them by generously providing for the poor. Leaving food in the fields for poor people to reap on their own without fear of being killed or prosecuted for trespassing showed love and compassion for the poor. Instead of selfishly gathering every bit of profit, God commanded his people to be productive but also to provide a means for those who were poor to live.

That kind of love for one’s poor neighbor would set apart God’s people from the nations around them. It should also mark us, his people by faith, today. We should be generous to the poor—regardless of why they are poor–because we want to live a holy life that emulates God.

That doesn’t mean that we have to support every (or any) government program. Neither this passage nor any other passage in the New Testament puts the responsibility to provide for the poor on the government. But this passage does mean that we should do what we can personally to help anyone within our reach to meet their daily needs for survival. That goes against our human instincts to watch out for ourselves alone. By being counter to our instincts, caring for the poor is an expression of holiness because it sets us apart from people who despise the poor and even take advantage of them.

Have you given anything to help those in need lately? Being generous to the needy is part of the holiness of God that God wants to develop in your life.

1 Kings 15, Ezekiel 45

Read 1 Kings 15 and Ezekiel 45.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 45:7-9: “7 “The prince will have the land bordering each side of the area formed by the sacred district and the property of the city. It will extend westward from the west side and eastward from the east side, running lengthwise from the western to the eastern border parallel to one of the tribal portions. This land will be his possession in Israel. And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

The right to private property is foundational to righteousness. The eighth commandment, “You shall not steal,” is a command that protects the right to own things. If there is no ownership–no private property–then it is impossible to steal anything. So God cares enough about private ownership of property that he protected it in the Big 10 (that is, the Ten Commandments).

Who has the power to steal and get away with it? Government, that’s who.

If I walked over to my neighbor’s house, stuck a gun in his face and told him I was taking his land to build a private road to my house, I would be prosecuted for a number of crimes. But, if someone from the government shows up and says they are going to take your home using “immanent domain” what recourse do you have? You could sue them and you might win but the very court that will hear and decide your case is another branch of the same government, so good luck.

Here in Ezekiel 45, God commanded some specific things to protect private property in Israel when it would be restored to its land. in verses 1-4 God commanded a specific amount of land that would be set aside for the temple and the priests. In verse 5, he marked out more land for the Levites. In verse 6 he marked out some public land for “all Israel.”

Then in verse 7 he prescribed how much land “the prince” would own and where that land would be. Verse 8a said, “This land will be his possession in Israel” and then verse 8b went on to say, “And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes.” This is a statement against the forcible seizure of land by the government. In verse 9 God took some time out to condemn the princes of Israel for taking too much land: “You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord.” These verses were for Israel, of course, but they are based on a universal ethic, an eternal standard of right and wrong when it comes to the human right of private property.

Our governments (federal, state, and local) have transgressed the principles applied in this passage. The amount that the government collects in taxes, the unjust way it seizes land using immanent domain, the way it imposes regulations on business and private transactions, the way it harasses American citizens at border patrol checkpoints, and the way that it monitors communication are just a few of the ways that it uses violence to oppress people. We have a lot more say in our government than most people who have lived in human history and I’m thankful for that, but the government is encroaching on more and more of our lives all the time.

We should use all the legal, peaceful means available to us to protect the freedoms we have and rollback, if possible, the ways government encroaches on our freedom and rights. Ultimately, however, there will be no perfect society until Jesus is king. When you see or hear of oppression, injustice, and violence–whether caused by our or another human government or by one person against another–that is an opportunity to ask God for his help and to remind ourselves that our citizenship is in heaven.

Deuteronomy 23, Isaiah 50

Today we’re reading Deuteronomy 23 and Isaiah 50.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 23:24-25.

The foundation of capitalism is the right to private property. The Bible affirms that right in the 8th commandment: “Do not steal” (Ex 20:15). So, any possession you have is yours, provided you acquired by righteous means such as building it, buying it, receiving it as a gift, or swapping it for something else of value.

Ownership and value are destroyed by theft so owners and producers of value have good reasons to defend what they own. But there is a difference between defending against theft and being stingy. A stingy person isn’t someone who defends what they have against theft; a stingy person is someone who hordes things for himself.

In this chapter, God specified some ways in which his people were to show generosity to each other. One of those ways was described in verses 24-25. If you’re hungry or just want a snack as you are walking by the vineyard or field of your neighbor, you may take some of what is growing there and enjoy it. That is neighborly generosity, according to God’s law. It is not stealing.

However, if you “put any in a basket” (v. 24c) or “put a sickle to their standing grain” (v. 25c), that is not allowed. That is stealing because in those cases, you would be helping yourself to a large share of their value without doing any work to plant or cultivate the vineyard or field. That violates another family’s private property, diminishes the value of their work and assets, and materially affects their livelihood.

The Lord’s intent here is to teach us to be generous to our neighbors, to share with them in ways that won’t substantially alter the living you make from your work. Maybe in your context, it means lending tools to someone who needs them. You might make your living with those tools but, in most instances, lending those tools to someone for a few hours to a day would be a generous thing to do. Another example, maybe, is helping a friend or another brother or sister in Christ fix or replace something in their home without charging for it, even if that’s how you make your living. This is particularly generous if the person you help is poor. If they call you every time something breaks and don’t want to pay, that is taking advantage of you and is tantamount to stealing. But, in smaller instances where we can help others, God wants us to be generous.

Are you a person who is stingy? Do you love to give and help others in need or are you always counting the cost? Faith in God should lead us toward generosity to others. This is an act of faith because, in generosity, we trust that God will provide for us and bless us when we are kind and generous to others. What opportunity might you have today to bless someone with generosity, meeting a need in their life that will cost you little to nothing but mean so much to them?