Because God is holy he demands a holy people. Because he chose to dwell among his people they needed to be holy, hence the placement of this book immediately after the Book of Exodus, which ended with a description of God taking up his dwelling in the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38). Unfortunately, I do not have time to write concerning the purpose of the book or its relation to the Pentateuch as a whole; instead, I’ve included some resources on this book at the end of this post.
Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel. Both priest and people.
Be ye holy, because I the Lord your God am holy. The imperative echos often in Leviticus (Lev 11:44-45; Lev 19:2; Lev 20:7; Lev 20:26; Lev 22:31-33). It recalls the initial covenant encounter between God and his People at Sinai: If therefore you will hear my voice, and keep my covenant, you shall be my peculiar possession above all people: for all the earth is mine. And you shall be to me a priestly kingdom, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). The basic meaning of holiness, when used in relation to man or things, is that of a separation. That which is sanctified, made holy, is to be taken out of the realm of the ordinary or the profane and dedicated to God is some way. For man, this would include a separation from sin.
The Lord your God. Lord is YHWH, the divine name revealed to Moses.
Catechism203-211: 203God revealed himself to his people Israel by making his name known to them. A name expresses a person’s essence and identity and the meaning of this person’s life. God has a name; he is not an anonymous force. To disclose one’s name is to make oneself known to others; in a way it is to hand oneself over by becoming accessible, capable of being known more intimately and addressed personally.
204 God revealed himself progressively and under different names to his people, but the revelation that proved to be the fundamental one for both the Old and the New Covenants was the revelation of the divine name to Moses in the theophany of the burning bush, on the threshold of the Exodus and of the covenant on Sinai.
205 God calls Moses from the midst of a bush that bums without being consumed: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”[Ex 3:6] God is the God of the fathers, the One who had called and guided the patriarchs in their wanderings. He is the faithful and compassionate God who remembers them and his promises; he comes to free their descendants from slavery. He is the God who, from beyond space and time, can do this and wills to do it, the God who will put his almighty power to work for this plan.
“I Am who I Am” Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you’, and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’. . . this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”[Ex 3:13-15]
206 In revealing his mysterious name, YHWH (“I AM HE WHO IS”, “I AM WHO AM” or “I AM WHO I AM”), God says who he is and by what name he is to be called. This divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery. It is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name, and hence it better expresses God as what he is – infinitely above everything that we can understand or say: he is the “hidden God”, his name is ineffable, and he is the God who makes himself close to men.[Cf Isa 45:15; Judges 13:18]
207 By revealing his name God at the same time reveals his faithfulness which is from everlasting to everlasting, valid for the past (“I am the God of your father”), as for the future (“I will be with you”).[Exodus 3:6, Ex 3:12] God, who reveals his name as “I AM”, reveals himself as the God who is always there, present to his people in order to save them.
208 Faced with God’s fascinating and mysterious presence, man discovers his own insignificance. Before the burning bush, Moses takes off his sandals and veils his face in the presence of God’s holiness.[Cf. Ex 3:5-6] Before the glory of the thrice-holy God, Isaiah cries out: “Woe is me! I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips.”[Isa 6:5] Before the divine signs wrought by Jesus, Peter exclaims: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”[Luke 5:8] But because God is holy, he can forgive the man who realizes that he is a sinner before him: “I will not execute my fierce anger. . . for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst.”[Hosea 11:9] The apostle John says likewise: “We shall. . . reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”[1 John 3:19-20]
209 Out of respect for the holiness of God, the people of Israel do not pronounce his name. In the reading of Sacred Scripture, the revealed name (YHWH) is replaced by the divine title “LORD” (in Hebrew Adonai, in Greek Kyrios). It is under this title that the divinity of Jesus will be acclaimed: “Jesus is LORD.” “A God merciful and gracious”
210 After Israel’s sin, when the people had turned away from God to worship the golden calf, God hears Moses’ prayer of intercession and agrees to walk in the midst of an unfaithful people, thus demonstrating his love.[Cf. Ex 32; Ex 33:12-17] When Moses asks to see his glory, God responds “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name “the LORD” [YHWH].”[Ex 33:18-19] Then the LORD passes before Moses and proclaims, “YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”; Moses then confesses that the LORD is a forgiving God.[Ex 34:5-6, cf. Ex 34:9]
211 The divine name, “I Am” or “He Is”, expresses God’s faithfulness: despite the faithlessness of men’s sin and the punishment it deserves, he keeps “steadfast love for thousands”.[Ex 34:7] By going so far as to give up his own Son for us, God reveals that he is “rich in mercy”.[Eph 2:4] By giving his life to free us from sin, Jesus reveals that he himself bears the divine name: “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will realize that “I AM”.”[John 8:28 Greek text]
Lev 19:11 You shall not steal. You shall not lie: neither shall any man deceive his neighbour.
You shall not lie…deceive. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor (Ex 20:16, see also Deut 5:20). Again you have heard that it was said to them of old, thou shalt not forswear thyself: but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord (Matt 5:33).
Catechism #2464: The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. This moral prescription flows from the vocation of the holy people to bear witness to their God who is the truth and wills the truth. Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness: they are fundamental infidelities to God and, in this sense, they undermine the foundations of the covenant.
2465 The Old Testament attests that God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth. His “faithfulness endures to all generations.”[Ps 119:90; cf. Prov 8:7; 2 Sam 7:28; Ps 119:142; Luke 1:50] Since God is “true,” the members of his people are called to live in the truth.
Note how this last line from the catechism quote echos the thought of verse 2: Be ye holy, because I the Lord your God am holy. To see all the catechism has to say on lying and deceit, go here.
Lev 19:12 Thou shalt not swear falsely by my name, nor profane the name of thy God. I am the Lord.
Thou shalt not swear falsely by my name. What this commandment entails in essence (pop up window). Obviously this injunction relates, in part, to the previous one concerning lying and deceit (see CCC 2150 pop up window). But it includes any profanation of God’s name. Concerning what the catechism has to say regarding God’s name, see here.
I am the Lord. The Holy One of verse 2.
Lev 19:13 Thou shalt not calumniate thy neighbour, nor oppress him by violence. The wages of him that hath been hired by thee shall not abide with thee until the morning.
Thou shalt not calumniate a neighbor. From the 1909 Catholic Dictionary: “Any deception of another, especially in judicial matters, commonly used to mean unjust damaging of another’s character by imputing to him something of which he is not guilty. It is an act which varies in sinfulness according to the gravity of the fault or crime imputed and the damage done. It calls for retraction and for reparation of the damage done”
According to the Catechism: “Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty…of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them” (CCC 2477).the context suggests the act is directly related to the victim’s employment.
Nor oppress him by violence. Concerning the devastating effects of violence the prophet Hosea has this to say: Hear the word of the LORD, O people of Israel; for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air; and even the fish of the sea are taken away (Hosea 4:1-3, RSV).
Concerning the attitude of the violent oppressor: Let none of us go without his part in luxury: let us every where leave tokens of joy: for this is our portion, and this our lot. Let us oppress the poor just man, and not spare the widow, nor honour thc ancient grey hairs of the aged. But let our strength be the law of justice: for that which is feeble is found to be nothing worth. Let us, therefore, lie in wait for the just, because he is not for our turn, and he is contrary to our doings, and upbraideth us with transgressions of the law, and divulgeth against us the sins of our way of life. He boasteth that he hath the knowledge of God, and calleth himself the son of God. He is become a censurer of our thoughts. He is grievous unto us, even to behold: for his life is not like other men’s, and his ways are very different. We are esteemed by him as triflers, and he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness, and he preferreth the latter end of the just, and glorieth that he hath God for his father. Let us see then if his words be true, and let us prove what shall happen to him, and we shall know what his end shall be. For if he be the true son of God, he will defend him, and will deliver him from the hands of his enemies. Let us examine him by outrages and tortures, that we may know his meekness, and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a most shameful death: for there shall be respect had unto him by his words. These things they thought, and were deceived: for their own malice blinded them. And they knew not the secrets of God, nor hoped for the wages of justice, nor esteemed the honour of holy souls. For God created man incorruptible, and to the image of his own likeness he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death came into the world: And they follow him that are of his side (Wisdom 2:9-25).
The wages of him that hath been hired by thee shall not abide with thee until the morning. See Deut 24:14-15. This was an act of oppression which the wisdom authors of Israel considered akin to murder: The bread of the needy, is the life of the poor: he that defraudeth them thereof, is a man of blood. He that taketh away the bread gotten by sweat, is like him that killeth his neighbour. He that sheddeth blood, and he that defraudeth the laborer of his hire, are brothers. To withhold a man’s wage was to withhold food, and, therefore, life (Sirach 34:25-27). Such action, like the blood of Abel, calls out to God: Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts (James 5:4, RSV).
Lev 19:14 Thou shalt not speak evil of the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind: but thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, because I am the Lord.
Thou shalt not speak evil of the deaf. This and the clause which follows were probably intended as a broad statement forbidding unkind treatment of the helpless. The example chosen is particularly odious, for a deaf man cannot hear what is said of him and, consequently, cannot respond. It’s akin to hitting or kicking a quadriplegic.
Nor put a stumbling block before the blind. Then as now there are people willing to get a cheap laugh at the expense of others. We are called upon to be andeye to the blind and a foot to the lame (Job 29:15).
But thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, because I am the Lord. The Holy One. Such actions will bring down his wrath: Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are in the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, Bring, that we may drink! The Lord GOD has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks. And you shall go out through the breaches, every one straight before her; and you shall be cast forth into Harmon, says the LORD…Therefore I will deal with you, O Israel! And now that I will deal with you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel. (Amos 4:1-3, RSV, Amos 4:12 my translation in green text).
Lev 19:15 Thou shalt not do that which is unjust, nor judge unjustly. Respect not the person of the poor: nor honour the countenance of the mighty. But judge thy neighbour according to justice.
Thou shalt not do that which is unjust…Respect not the person of the poor. Funny how the purveyors of what passes for social justice these days seem to overlook this passage. The old Protestant commentator, Matthew Henry, writes judiciously that those in authority “must do no wrong to either side, but, to the utmost of their skill, must go according to the rules of equity, having respect purely to the merits of the cause, and not to the characters of the person. Justice must never be perverted, either, 1. In pity to the poor: Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, Ex 23:3. Whatever may be given to a poor man as an alms, yet let nothing be awarded him as his right but what he is legally entitled to, nor let his poverty excuse him from any just punishment for a fault. Or, 2. In veneration or fear of the mighty, in whose favour judges would be most frequently biased. The Jews say, “Judges were obliged by this law to be so impartial as not to let one of the contending parties sit while the other stood, nor permit one to say what he pleased and bid the other be short; see James 2:1-4.”
Lev 19:16 Thou shalt not be a detractor nor a whisperer among the people. Thou shalt not stand against the blood of thy neighbour. I am the Lord.
Thou shalt not be a detractor. The 1909 Catholic Dictionary defines detraction thus: “Unjust damaging of another’s good name by the revelation of some fault or crime of which that other is guilty or believed to be guilty by the defamer. The detractor’s guilt varies with the damage done. He is bound to restitution of the defamed’s violated rights. For just reasons one may lawfully divulge another’s offenses, but only to prudent persons and for the purpose of preventing evil to the guilty party or others.”
According to the Catechism: “Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty…of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;[Sirach 21:28].” Like Calumny, detraction destroys the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity (CCC 2479). Detraction in both word and attitude is forbidden (CCC 2507).
Nor a whisperer among the people. Probably has in mind all the various sins of the tongue, such as leis, calumny, detraction. The talebearer shall defile his own soul, and shall be hated by all: and he that shall abide with him shall be hateful ( Sirach 21:31).
Thou shalt not stand against the blood of thy neighbor. The RSV reads: you shall not stand forth against the life of your neighbor. The NAB translation understands it to mean standing by idle while someone’s life is in danger. The old Haydock Commentary gives a fuller meaning: “accusing him wrongfully, to the danger of his life; or lying in wait for him like an assassin. But strive rather to rescue those who are attacked. Those who neglect this duty, are responsible for the consequences, according to the Jews, (Selden, Jur. iv. 3,) and the laws of the Egyptians. (Diodorus 1.)”
Lev 19:17 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: But reprove him openly, lest thou incur sin through him.
But reprove him openly. As St Paul did “when Cephas came to Antioch…I saw that they walked not uprightly unto the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all: If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles and not as the Jews do, how dost thou compel the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (see Gal 2:11-14).
Galatians 6:1~Brethren, and if a man be overtaken in any fault, you, who are spiritual, instruct such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. In commenting of the verse from Galatians just quoted, St John Chrysostom writes:
He says not ‘chastise’ nor ‘judge,’ but ‘set right.’ Nor does he stop here, but inorder to show that it behoved them to be very gentle towards those who had lost their footing, he subjoins,
‘In a spirit of meekness.’
He says not, ‘in meekness,’ but, ‘in a spirit of meekness,’ signifying thereby that this is acceptable to the Spirit, and that to be able to administer correction with mildness is a spiritual gift. Then, to prevent the one being unduly exalted by having to correct the other, puts him under the same fear, saying,
‘Looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted.’
For as rich men convey contributions to the indigent, that in case they should be themselves involved in poverty they may receive the same bounty, so ought we also to do. And therefore he states this cogent reason, in these words, ‘looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted.’ He apologizes for the offender, first, by saying ‘if ye be overtaken;’ next, by employing a term indicative of great infirmity; lastly, by the words ‘lest thou also be tempted,’ thus arraigning the malice of the devil rather than the remissness of the soul (Homily on Galatians).
Pope St Gregory the Great: “Every one, therefore, ought to gather from himself how it behoves him to pity another’s weakness, lest, if he be too fervently hurried to words of reprehension against a neighbour’s infirmity, he should seem to be forgetful of his own. Whence Paul admonishes well, when he says, If a man be overtaken in any fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted (Ga 6,1); as if to say plainly, When what thou seest of the infirmity of another displeases thee, consider what thou art; that so the spirit may moderate itself in the zeal of reprehension, while for itself also it fears what it reprehends” (The Pastoral Rule).
St Augustine: “But then in the correction and repressing of other men’s sins, one must take heed, that in rebuking another he do not lift up himself; and that sentence of the Apostle must be thought of, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12). Let the voice of chiding sound outwardly in tones of terror, let the spirit of love and gentleness be maintained within. “If a man be overtaken in a fault,” as the same Apostle says, “ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so shall ye fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1-2). And again in another place, “The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are held captive by him at his will” (2 Tim 2:24). So then be neither consenting to evil, so as to approve of it; nor negligent so as not to reprove it; nor proud so as to reprove it in a tone of insult.” (St Augustine, On The New Testament).
Lev 19:18 Seek not revenge, nor be mindful of the injury of thy citizens. Thou shalt love thy friend as thyself. I am the Lord.
The Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture: The Hebrew reads~ ‘Seek not revenge, nor bear rancour towards the children of thy people; thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’. Note that the OT conception of ‘neighbour’ was restricted to one’s fellow-nationals. Love was first limited to fellowIsraelites, and then extended to the resident aliens (Lev 19:33-34). But the grand commandment of universal love was first proclaimed by our Lord; cf.Matt 5:43, Matt 5:44.
THE MEN AND MESSAGE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. By Peter F. Ellis. A good but somewhat outdated introduction to the OT. Out of print but still available for purchase online.
Record of Promise: The Old Testament. By Father Wilfred J Harrington. Introduction to the OT.
God’s Word to Israel. By Father Joseph Jenkins. An introduction to the OT.
Inside the Bible: A Guide to Understanding Each Book of the Bible. By Father Kenneth Baker.
FREE AUDIO SERIES: Inside the Bible. Presented by Fr. Baker and based upon his book. The first program deals with the first four books of the OT, including Leviticus.
The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch. Introductory commentary on the first five books of the OT.
New Collegeville Bible Commentary on the Old Testament: Leviticus. By J. Edward Owens. 100 page booklet commentary. Very basic.
International Theological Commentary: Divine Presence and Community: A Commentary on the Book of Leviticus. By Frank H. Gorman Jr. A brief Protestant Commentary.
Continental Commentary: Leviticus. By renowned Jewish scholar Jacob Milgrom.
Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Compiled from the books, sermons, treatises, etc. of various early Christian authors. For some idea about the series purpose and strategy one should read the back cover.