Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Fear of God

Leviticus 19:13-14, 32 (NAB):
You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer You shall not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the LORD.

Stand up in the presence of the aged, and show respect for the old; thus shall you fear your God. I am the LORD.

It reminds one of James's "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (Jas. 1:27).

The whole of Leviticus 19 can be seen precisely as a meditation on 'Fearing your God'. It opens with God's command to Israel to be holy because God is holy, and reads almost like a chant, with commands interspersed with the affirmation, "I, the LORD, am your God," or "I am the LORD." (There are two passages that seem to have wandered in from other contexts, namely vv. 5-8 and 20-22, which break the rhythm of the chapter; it's unclear what to do with v. 19 as well.) Fearing God, in the relevant sense, has to do with respecting the fact of the Lord's being the Lord, of God's being God. It is to stand before God and recognize the significance of the statement, "I, Jehovah, am your God."

This makes Leviticus 19 (or, if you prefer, Leviticus 19:1-4, 9-18, 23-37) one of the most powerful passages of the Bible and one of the most exquisite religious texts in history. It contains what Jesus called the second of the great commandments, on which all the others hang, which Paul said fulfilled the whole law, which James called the royal law, which Akiba called the great principle of Torah, namely, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (19:18); it points out that this does not mean merely loving others in your community but everyone, because we are to love strangers as ourselves as well (19:34).

The passage always bears re-reading.

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