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The human way to holiness Exegesis Leviticus 26:1
Presented to John W. Waters, Ph.D. By

Alcenir Oliveira
For BSL-501 - Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) Interdenominational Theological Center Atlanta October 15, 2005

Introduction
The purpose of this study is to get to a clear understanding of the text in Leviticus 26:1-8: Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the LORD your God. It starts with a approach of the primitive contents of translation of the book, followed by and discussion of the context in which the people object of the text were dealing with and finally the applications universally inferred from the text.

1.

The Original Meaning
Leviticus 26:1 is a verse that seems to be isolated and meaningless at the first

glance. Reviewing a variety of versions (see appendix A), no apparent difference is noticed for the key words evidenced in the text. The essential words in this text are “idols, carved stones, sacred pillar, sculpted stones, bow down, LORD and God”. Therefore, the adopted version, which seems more complete, was the Holman Christian

2 Standard Bible, that reads “Do not make idols for yourselves, (A set up a carved image or sacred pillar for yourselves, or place a sculpted stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the LORD your God”. In the pre-text and pos-text it is quite easy to visualize why the text comes in. The book of Leviticus is a book of Law. The act of fulfillment of the Law translates to worship, what was the duty of the Levites. This Code of Jurisprudence for the Hebrew people is very much inserted in a context of building a society in terms of organization, structure, where there are rules that must be obeyed for the survival of the community. This is only possible if the people are in unity, focused in one direction. As far as they were surrounded by people of heavily impregnated pagan traditions, it was required a radical, extreme enforcement of the Law, claiming zero tolerance, so that the purpose could be accomplished. There is no other god, but God. That is what is deducted from the translation in the context of the whole chapter, on the worship ruling principles established in the previous chapters. The writer, among many smaller and different divisions of the book by interrelated subject, traces a strong line between the end of the first 25 chapters and the beginning of the 26. After all those arguments about sacrifice for sin, for fellowship and many other socially related rules of sacrifice, he stops and recall the capital commandment THERE IS NO OTHER BUT ME. It is useless to have any idol, sculpture, pillar, or whatever. By doing so, the people are confessing that they do not believe in Jehovah. Exodus 20:3-4 “Do not have other gods besides Me. (A) Do not make an idol (B) for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth” is recalled in the studied text. Mathew Henry attribute to law a commitment to love – divine (to God) and human (to neighbor) – clearly forwarding the subject further ahead to the preaching of Jesus, saying that “The first four of the ten commandments, commonly called the FIRST table, tell our duty to God. It was fit that those should be put first, because man had a Maker to love, before he had a neighbor to love. It cannot be expected that he should be true to his brother, who is false to his God. The first commandment concerns the object of worship, JEHOVAH, and him only. The worship of creatures is here forbidden. Whatever comes short of perfect love, gratitude, reverence, or worship, breaks this commandment”.1
1

Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible is available in the Public Domain.

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2.

Context of Tradition

First of all, here we are dealing with a society living more than three thousand years ago. The least we can deduct of a society that far back is that the level of understanding of natural phenomena is primitive. Second, the social organization is also very rudimentary and most of the authority is understood as being backed by a god, gods or the God. Third, in all of what is known of the organized kingdoms, besides being autocratic they are theocratic, meaning here they are the absolute representatives of the gods or the God. The biblical society dealt with from Genesis to Leviticus, if we could say so, is of peoples learning to build their own way to become organized. Of course, by the proper nature of the human being, they have constituted leaders; nevertheless they go out of control on their own sometimes. In these lines of thought, they reach out for the supernatural, whenever phenomena occur that explanation can only come from the divine. A matter that can not be lost of sight, as is discussed by Mendehall in Forms of Covenants (……) is that the specific group of called people of Israel at the moment these books of the Bible were written were not unique. There were other peoples. It is worth to say that Egypt was a great civilization, where the Hebrew people were gone under slavery. It is very clear in Leviticus 18:1-5: “1 The LORD spoke to Moses: 2 "Speak to the Israelites and tell them: I am the LORD your God. Egypt,
4 (B) (A) 3

Do not follow the practices of the land of

where you used to live, or follow the practices of the land of
(E)

Canaan, (C) where I am bringing you. You must not follow their customs. (D) You are to practice My ordinances and you are to keep My statutes (F)
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by following them; I am the LORD your God.

Keep My statutes and

ordinances; a person will live (G) if he does them. (H) I am the LORD” There were other organized societies of great influences on the people of Israel, and sometimes these influences are so strong that the form of written communication has to apply some images of the common tradition for the people to understand. It is evident in

4 the analysis of Mendental2 in forms of covenant. Therefore, there is a mix of culture or at least a great deal of influence of values of the surrounding culture on the other. Further in Leviticus 18:24-30, as a closing on a list of practices of the surrounding nations or tribes condemned by the Lord it says “24 "Do not defile yourselves by any of these [practices], for the nations I am driving out before you have defiled themselves by all these things. 25 The land has become defiled, so I am punishing it for its sin, and the land will vomit out its inhabitants. among you. will vomit
(AE) 26

But you are to keep My statutes and ordinances. You must not

commit any of these abominations—not the native or the foreigner who lives
27

For the men who were in the land prior to you have committed all
28

these abominations, and the land has become defiled.
(AF)

If you defile the land, it
29

you out as it has vomited out the nations that were before you.
(AG)

Any person who does any of these abominations must be cut off from his people. 30 You must keep My instruction to not do any of the detestable customs LORD your God." If we go on details about culture, we see that it means religious beliefs, music, dance, food, and ethics and so on. These things are very strong because they shape attitude, and attitude is very influential. Therefore, what we see behind the text is that there are traditions in the land which are so strong that the people who are supposed to worship Jehovah God alone, start using things that other traditions may have imposed somehow naturally on them. In a commentary about Leviticus chapter 26, Mathew Henry3 understands that it is a general enforcement of the laws with promises of reward for obedience and punishments for disobedience. He puts it in two extremes, first, in case of obedience it is dealing with hope of good outcomes from God, which is a great motivator, for people may give up things they are engaged with for the hope of great rewards. O the other hand, that were practiced before you, so that you do not defile yourselves by them; I am the

MENDENTALL, George E. Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition. University of Michigan. The Biblical Archeologist. American School of Oriental Research (Jerusalem and Baghdad):New Haven, con, Dec. 1954, pp 50-76.
2 3

Henry, Mathew. “Commentary on Leviticus 26”. Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible. Blue Letter Bible. 01 Mar 1996.

5 he proceeds, the text is dealing with fear of strong punishment, what may be seen as coercion. It recalls the suzerainty form of covenant. If we retrieve the basics of covenant, we are seeing here two sides of a call to submission to the covenant. Henry lists four reasons to remind the law “I. A repetition of two or three of the principal of the commandments (v. 1, 2). II. An inviting promise of all good things, if they would but keep God’s commandments (v. 3–13). III. A terrible threatening of ruining judgments which would be brought upon them if they were refractory and disobedient (v. 14–39). IV. A gracious promise of the return of mercy to those of them that would repent and reform (v. 40, etc.)”. In chapter 19, he starts saying “1 The LORD spoke to Moses: entire Israelite community and tell them: Be holy behaving with the neighbor.
(A) 2

"Speak to the

because I, the LORD your God, am

holy”. And all the remaining of the chapter deals with relationship in community,

3.

Commentary
Idolatry is an issue that has been a problem since creation because it means God is

being replaced. Therefore it is always forbidden. For a clear understanding of what God was meaning, the Lord issue a list of things that shouldn’t sculpted into image, anything in heaven above, or on earth and in water. Jamieson says that “the law was repeated here with reference to some particular forms of it that were very prevalent among the neighboring nations”. . 4 The standing image – an upright pillar - an image of stone, an obelisk written in hieroglyph and superstitious characters was common for the Syrians or Canaanites; the obelisks were worshipped by the Egyptians as guardian divinities, or used as stones of

Jamieson, Robert; A.R. Fausset; and David Brown. "The Third Book of Moses, Called Leviticus." Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Blue Letter Bible. 19 Feb 2000. 14 Oct 2005. <http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/Lev/Lev026.html
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6 adoration to stimulate religious worship. The Israelites were becoming used with these things. This is the moment when the covenant is recalled and the commandment is reminded for the danger that the people were supposed to incur if they started to let those things to mix with their rituals of worship to God. Further, a list of radical punishment is shown for this kind of sin in such an intensity that seems that the people were getting really involved with those practices. But afterwards God calls to repentance and promises to recall the covenants made with Jacob, Isaac and Abraham, if the people abide by the “heart of the Law”, which is to love God and love the neighbor.

Conclusion
The purpose here was to make the people aware of the risk of the temptation of giving in to other gods and the rewards of being faithful to God. It is very specific written for that people, but there is a universal and non-temporal truth about this. There are two concepts here. First, there are always people that become challenged to forget their commitment to Jesus Christ and get involved with other gods, spiritual gods. Second, those images and sculpture are replaced by a lot of other things that start to become more important for the society than God. It is so beautifully covered the extreme threat of the disobedience by a contrast of forgiveness when the people turn back to God, which is the central message of the Bible: faith, love to God and the neighbor. In the verses 40 to 45, Says Henry, in the promise of “if they shall confess their iniquity”, the passage holds out the gracious promise of divine forgiveness and favor on their repentance, and their happy restoration to their land, in memory of the covenant made with their fathers.5 A great application is yet made by Henry: "Be sure you never worship images, nor ever make any sort of images or pictures for a religious use,’’ v. 1. No sin was more provoking to God than this, and yet there was none that they were more addicted to, and which afterwards proved of more pernicious consequence to them. Next to God’s being, unity, and universal influence, it is necessary that we know and believe that he is an
5

Ib.Id.

Henry, Matthew

7 infinite Spirit; and therefore to represent him by an image in the making of it, to confine him to an image in the consecrating of it, and to worship him by an image in bowing down to it, changes his truth into a lie and his glory into shame, as much as any thing. 2. "Be sure you keep up a great veneration for sabbaths and religious assemblies,’’ v. 2. As nothing tends more to corrupt religion than the use of images in devotion, so nothing contributes more to the support of it than keeping the sabbaths and reverencing the sanctuary. These make up very much of the instrumental part of religion, by which the essentials of it are kept up. Therefore we find in the prophets that, next to the sin of idolatry, there is no sin for which the Jews are more frequently reproved and threatened than the profanation of the sabbath day. Great encouragements given them to live in constant obedience to all God’s commandments, largely and strongly assuring them that if they did so they should be a happy people, and should be blessed with all the good things they could desire. APENDIX (LATIN) Biblia Sacra Vulgata: ego Dominus Deus vester non facietis vobis idolum et sculptile nec titulos erigetis nec insignem lapidem ponetis in terra vestra ut adoretis eum ego enim sum Dominus Deus vester (ITALIAN) Conferenza Episcopale Italiana: Non vi farete idoli, né vi erigerete immagini scolpite o stele, né permetterete che nel vostro paese vi sia pietra ornata di figure, per prostrarvi davanti ad essa; poiché io sono il Signore vostro Dio. (FRENCH) Louis Segond: Vous ne vous ferez point d'idoles, vous ne vous élèverez ni image taillée ni statue, et vous ne placerez dans votre pays aucune pierre ornée de figures, pour vous prosterner devant elle; car je suis l'Éternel, votre Dieu. (PORTUGUESE) João Ferreira de Almeida Atualizada: Não fareis para vós ídolos, nem para vós levantareis imagem esculpida, nem coluna, nem poreis na vossa terra pedra com figuras, para vos inclinardes a ela; porque eu sou o Senhor vosso Deus. (SPANISH) Reina-Valera Antigua: No haréis para vosotros ídolos, ni escultura, ni os levantaréis estatua, ni pondréis en vuestra tierra piedra pintada para inclinaros á ella: porque yo soy Jehová vuestro Dios. 21st Century King James Version: Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land to bow

8 down unto it; for I am the LORD your God American Standard Version: Ye shall make you no idols, neither shall ye rear you up a graven image, or a pillar, neither shall ye place any figured stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am Jehovah your God. Amplified Bible: YOU SHALL make for yourselves no idols nor shall you erect a graven image, pillar, or obelisk, nor shall you place any figured stone in your land to which or on which to bow down; for I am the Lord your God. Contemporary English Version: I am the LORD your God! So don't make or worship any sort of idols or images. Darby Translation: Ye shall make yourselves no idols, neither rear you up for yourselves carved image, or statue, nor shall ye set up a figured stone in your land, to bow down unto it; for I am Jehovah your God. Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition: I am the Lord your God: you shall not make to yourselves any idol or graven thing, neither shall you erect pillars, nor set up a remarkable stone in your land, to adore it: for I am the Lord your God. English Standard Version: You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the LORD your God. Holman Christian Standard Bible: Do not make idols for yourselves,
(A)

set up a carved

image or sacred pillar for yourselves, or place a sculpted stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the LORD your God. King James Version:Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God. New American Standard Bible:You shall not make for yourselves (A)idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves
(B)

an image or

(C)

a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a

(D)

figured stone in

your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God. New International Reader's Version:Do not make statues of gods for yourselves. Do not set up a likeness of a god or a sacred stone for yourselves. Do not place a carved stone in your land and bow down in front of it. I am the Lord your God. New International Version:Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the LORD your God. New International Version – UK:Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the

9 LORD your God. New King James Version:You shall not make idols for yourselves;neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God. New Life Version:Do not make gods for yourselves. Do not set up for yourselves something to look like a god or a holy object. Do not set up something cut from stone in your land to bow down to. For I am the Lord your God. New Living Translation:Do not make idols or set up carved images, sacred pillars, or shaped stones to be worshiped in your land. I, the LORD, am your God. The Message: 1"Don't make idols for yourselves; don't set up an image or a sacred pillar for yourselves, and don't place a carved stone in your land that you can bow down to in worship. I am GOD, your God. Young's Literal Translation: Ye do not make to yourselves idols; and graven image or standing image ye do not set up to yourselves; and a stone of imagery ye do not put in your land, to bow yourselves to it; for I [am] Jehovah your God.

Bibliography
HENRY, MATHEW. “Commentary on Leviticus 26”. Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible. Blue Letter Bible. 01 Mar 1996. JAMIESON, ROBERT; A.R. Fausset; and David Brown. "The Third Book of Moses, Called Leviticus." Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Blue Letter Bible. 19 Feb 2000. 14 Oct 2005. <http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/Lev/Lev026.html MENDENTALL, George E. Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition. University of Michigan. The Biblical Archeologist. American School of Oriental Research (Jerusalem and Baghdad):New Haven, con, Dec. 1954, pp 50-76. BRUEGGEMANN, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. P.67-74.

10 ------------ The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX, by Robert Appleton Company, 1910, Online Edition, 2003 by K. Knight, Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor Imprimatur, John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York ---------------The Jerome Bible Commentary. Public domain text. May be distributed freely. No rights reserved, By Jerome Dominguez, M.D. COOGAN, Michael D. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. 3ed.New York: Oxford, 2001.

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