If Leviticus has stressed anything for the reader it is the essential nature of holiness in the life of the people of God. This holiness is necessary because it is reflective of the God with whom we are in relationship. See how often the phrase “I am the Lord” is used in chapter 19. So, even here in Leviticus 19 God establishes, “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy” (v. 2). In Leviticus 19 & 20 we see that holiness is important because it allows us to accurately represent God to the world. As such, holiness still matters for the believer today.
Holiness can seem a very vague and ethereal idea. Culturally the contemporary church has overly spiritualized the word, but Biblically it is a very earthy idea. Holiness is a tangible concept in Leviticus, even mundane. Holiness is part of the routine and ritual of Israel’s life, with concrete expressions in their daily living. We’ll see that holiness is to be the same for us too, as New Testament followers of Jesus.
These two chapters correspond as the command and the consequence. Chapter 19 outlines the detailed expectations of holy living and chapter 20 establishes the consequences for disobedience to these commands. God establishes the motivation to holiness, then, as both evangelistic appeal and avoidance of judgment.
Chapter 19 can be broken down into five sections. The first two verses are the prologue, introducing the subject of holiness and its foundation in the person of God. Verses 3-10 describe that holiness in specifics: respect your parents, keep the Sabbath, do not worship idols, offer sacrifices properly, and care for the poor and the sojourner. Verses 11-18 give more tangible details about loving our neighbors. In 19-31 the conversation shifts to describe holiness as avoidance of that which is unholy. Finally, verses 32-37 describe holiness in terms of caring for the elderly and the stranger. Notice in this chapter just how practical holiness is. It is about what you do, what you don’t do, and how you relate to others. Holiness is about loving God and loving others, covering both tables of the Ten Commandments. One could not, in other words, claim to love God while hating one’s neighbor. Holiness requires observance of both aspects.
Chapter 20 follows up by delineating the serious consequences for disobedience to God’s rules. In each case, disobedience requires that the sinner be “cut off” from the people of God. That is, he is to be killed. Death is the consequence of this immorality. The chapter explores several specific violations of the law: child sacrifice, use of mediums and necromancers, cursing of parents, and sexual immorality. God has given specific commands to be observed and obeyed and the disregarding of his holiness commands results in our own destruction.