“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” —Leviticus 19:18
Early in the Old Testament, we find the story of the Exodus. We’re told that the Lord liberated his chosen people from bondage in Egypt and led them on a journey toward the land he’d promised to their ancestor Abraham’s descendants. While in the desert on the way to what would be their new home, God formed them into a people, a nation set apart from the other nations, a people who would be holy (which means “set apart”) just as their God is holy.
In today’s verse, God gives the people this great, central commandment. Centuries later, Jesus would cite this as one of the two greatest commandments, along with loving the Lord with all that we have and everything we are.
Or perhaps it’s better to think of these as two parts of the same commandment. That’s certainly what it looks like here in Leviticus. Loving our neighbors as ourselves—and rejecting vengeance and grudges—is what we do precisely because of who our God is. The Lord is the Lord., the One who heard the cries of his people and liberated them, the One who is slow to mercy and abounding in unrelenting love, the One who had a purpose for the nation he was creating. This holy people was to take its identity from this holy God, to be patient as God is patient and compassionate as God is compassionate. This holy people was also to recognize that God alone is the Lord. Judgment and vengeance are God’s alone. He alone is the righteous judge. The people were invited to walk in peace and trust because they knew they had a mighty God who cared for them.
When Jesus taught this same commandment, he reminded those who called him Lord that lordship is not acknowledged only with our voices, but also with our actions. When we creatively find ways to love our brothers and sisters, we acknowledge the One who is Lord over them and Lord over us.
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” May it be so, for he is the Lord.