Understanding the Old Testament

Roots of the Two Greatest Commandments

All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment in the Jewish Law, he quoted Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Then He quoted Leviticus 19:18 as the second greatest commandment: “ . . . you shall love your neighbor as yourself. . . .” (See Matthew 22:34-40.)

The Law has many similar provisions. For example, an Israelite who saw his enemy’s animal wandering away was required to return the animal, and if the animal was in distress he must come to its aid. (Exodus 23:4-5)

The Pentateuch mandates that Israelites show kindness and justice to widows, orphans, strangers, and the poor. (Exodus 22:21-22, 23:9; Leviticus 19:9-10, 19:33-34, 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:17-22) Similarly, they were not to mistreat the blind or the deaf (Leviticus 19:14), and were to give honor to the elderly (Leviticus 19:32).

The poor and needy were not to be taken advantage of or mistreated, but were instead to be treated with generosity. (Leviticus 25:35-38; Deuteronomy 15:7-11) And if an Israelite became so poor that he sold himself into slavery to another Israelite, the slave was to be treated like a hired man rather than a slave. (Leviticus 25:39-40) By the way, all Israelite slaves went free during the Jubilee year, which occurred every fifty years. (Leviticus 25:10-11 and 25:39-41)

Even in business the Israelites were to be fair and honest, for false weights and measures were forbidden. (Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:13-16)

Questions to ponder or discuss:  In light of the above, how would you answer those who assert that the Old Testament is harsh and antiquated? How often do we as a society live up to the ideals discussed above?

Copyright 2017 by Don Davidson

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