PERHAPS THE MOST STRIKING FEATURE OF LEVITICUS 19 is the repeated clause, “I am the LORD.” In each case, it provides the reason why the Israelites are to obey the particular command.
Each must respect his mother and father, and must obey God’s Sabbaths: “I am the LORD” (19:3). They are not to succumb to idolatry: “I am the LORD” (19:4). When they harvest, they are to leave enough of the produce behind that the poor may find something to eat: “I am the LORD” (19:10). They are not to swear falsely using the name of God: “I am the LORD” (19:12). They are not to play foul jokes on the handicapped, such as cursing the deaf or putting a stumbling block in front of the blind: “I am the LORD” (19:14). They are not to take any action that endangers a neighbor’s life: “I am the LORD” (19:16). They are neither to seek revenge nor bear a grudge against a neighbor, but each is to love his neighbor as himself: “I am the LORD” (19:18). Upon entering the Promised Land, after planting any fruit tree they are not to eat its fruit for three years, and then must offer all the fruit to the Lord in the fourth year, before eating the fruit from the fifth year onward: “I am the LORD” (19:23-25). They are not to mutilate or tattoo their bodies: “I am the LORD” (19:28). They are to observe God’s Sabbaths and have reverence for his sanctuary: “I am the LORD” (19:30). They are not to resort to mediums or spiritists: “I am the LORD” (19:31). They are to rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly, and revere God: “I am the LORD” (19:32). Foreigners resident in the land must be treated as one of the native-born: “I am the LORD” (19:33-34). Business standards must be aboveboard: “I am the LORD” (19:35-36).
Although some of the commandments and prohibitions in this chapter do not end with this formula, they are nevertheless blessed with the same motive, for the closing verse wraps the chapter up: “Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the LORD” (19:37).
Moreover, judging by the opening verse of the chapter, the formula “I am the LORD” is in fact a reminder of something longer: “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy’” (19:1). We have already meditated a little on what holy means (cf. April 8). Here, what is striking is that many of these commandments are social in their effect (honesty, generosity, integrity, and so forth); yet the Lord’s holiness is the fundamental warrant for them. For the covenant people of God, the highest motives are bound up with pleasing him and fearing his sanctions.