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Reverence (Leviticus 19:32–37)

By R. J. Rushdoony
January 15, 2018

(Reprinted from Leviticus [Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2005], pp. 245–249).

32.  Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.
33.  And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.
34.  But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
35.  Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure.
36.  Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.
37.  Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:32–37)

Biblical law takes less space than any modern law book and yet totally covers life. It governs not only our action, but also our words, thoughts, and attitudes. We are warned not to put our “trust in princes, nor in the son of Adam, in whom there is no help” (Ps. 146:3). When men turn to God to trust and obey Him, then God is our help and government, with far-reaching benefits, as Psalm 146:5–10 makes clear:

5. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:
6. Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:
7. Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: Which giveth food to the hungry. The LORD looseth the prisoners:
8. The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind: the LORD raiseth them that are bowed down: the LORD loveth the righteous:
9. The LORD preserveth the strangers: he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.
10. The LORD shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the LORD.

The stranger, the fatherless, the widow, the oppressed, the hungry, the unjustly prisoned (i.e., captives), the blind, and more, are all the objects of God’s care and must be cared for by us also. But this is not all: the aged must be honored, even as parents are honored (Exod. 20:12). A generation that will not honor and respect its forbears will be despised and condemned by God. The command thus is to rise up when the aged come into our presence, and it is reinforced by the notice: “I am the LORD.” For children to oppress their elders, and women to rule over men (Isa. 3:5, 12), is a mark of the end of a culture and its coming judgment. The modern cult of youth is not Scriptural.

J. R. Porter correctly noted:

Reverence for the aged is not primarily on humanitarian grounds. It is rooted in the divine ordering of society and hence is coupled with the injunction fear your God.1
Kellogg was right in declaring that “reverence for the aged” in the law “closely connects…with the fear of God.”2

The Biblical goal for us is age with wisdom and justice, and this is declared to be “beauty.” Instances of this in Proverbs are the following:

The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness. (16:31)
The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head. (20:29)

The Biblical goal is age with wisdom and justice, or righteousness, whereas the modern goal is perpetual youth, with hedonistic pursuits and pleasures. It has not occurred to modern scholars, because of their thorough naturalism, that this depreciation of maturity and age may be one reason why so many men become impotent even in their forties.

Calvin noted:

Many old men, indeed, either by their own levity, or lewdness, or sloth, subvert their own dignity; yet, although grey hairs may not always be accompanied by courteous wisdom, still, in itself, age is venerable, according to God’s command.3

The Bible records only one case of open disrespect for age, by Elihu in Job 32:9, “Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.” God rebuked Eliphaz the Temanite, and his two friends, declaring, “ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath” (Job 42:7–8). God totally ignored Elihu. God “accepted” Job’s three friends, after they made sacrifices of repentance, and “the LORD also accepted Job” (Job 42:9–10), but again Elihu is bypassed as a nothing.4

Until recent years, in more than a few cultures, all rose up when an older man or woman entered a room. This is clearly set forth in the whole of Scripture, and Paul tells Timothy that a young pastor, while having a nominal authority over older members of the church, must also exercise deference even when duty requires some comment:

1. Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren;
2. The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1–2)

The placement of this law is not accidental. In v. 30, the Sabbath rest, and respect for God’s sanctuary, is required. God is our Creator, sustainer, and future. In v. 31, evil attempts to read the future outside of God are condemned; the future has a causal relationship to our past and present in terms of God’s law. In v. 32, respect for our past and present, our elders, is commanded as a manifestation of our fear of God.

In vv. 33–34, we are told what the love of our neighbor involves (Lev. 19:18). The law specifies strangers, aliens, and it refers to their captivity in Egypt to indicate what a godless treatment of aliens can be. Yet some commentators insist that the application of this law “was only to those who worshipped Israel’s God.”5 This is not how the text reads; only if one reads the Bible with evolution in mind is such a reading “tenable.” Alleman’s treatment of Genesis gives reasons for regarding his view as the importation of a modern perspective into the text. Jamieson was closer to the meaning here in declaring:

The Israelites were told to hold out encouragement to strangers to settle among them, that these might be brought to the knowledge and worship of the true God; and with this view they were enjoined to treat such persons, not as aliens, but as friends, on the ground that they themselves, who were strangers in Egypt, were at first kindly and hospitably received in that country.5

It is worthy of note that, if a culture is strong, the migrants into its boundaries seek to learn and follow its ways; they become strong proponents and defenders of it. When the culture weakens, both aliens and citizens begin to desert it.

How seriously this law is regarded by God appears in Deuteronomy 27:19:

Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.

In Matthew 25:40, our Lord says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” As we treat our fellow believers in need, so we treat Christ. Paul and the apostolic fellowship declare, in Hebrews 13:1–2,

1. Let brotherly love continue.
2. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

The reference here is to Genesis 18, the story of Abraham and the three strangers.

In vv. 35–37, justice in commercial dealings is required. The ephah was the standard dry measure, somewhat more than a bushel, and the hin a liquid measure, about 1¼ to 1½ gallons, although some authorities differ. Snaith rightly noted:

These verses are against false measurements of length, weight, and quantity. Scales were used not only for weighing what was sold, but also for weighing the money paid, the coins, such as they were, being by no means standardized or secure from clipping.6

Money was originally weights of gold and silver, not “coins,” and hence was honest money.

Porter wisely noted:

Dishonesty in commercial transactions would be a sign of injustice throughout the whole of society, generally at the expense of the poor, so it is often condemned in the prophets and elsewhere in the Old Testament (cf. Ezek. 45:10–11; Amos 8:5; Deut. 25:13–15).7

Dishonesty in commerce is evidence of bad character and an absence of godliness. The alternative to such dishonesty is not a withdrawal from the world of commerce but integrity within it.

Leviticus 19 begins and ends with the declaration, “I am the LORD.” This is the Lord’s Word, and, if we submit to Him as Lord, we submit to His Word. We cannot separate the two.

We show our reverence for the triune God in the way we treat our elders, all strangers or foreigners, and all men with whom we have commercial transactions or monetary dealings. We thereby manifest whether or not we fear God.

Furthermore, as Harrison noted, “Obedience to the divine will is the key to blessing in life.”8

J. R. Porter, Leviticus (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1976), p. 159.

2. S. H. Kellogg, The Book of Leviticus (Minneapolis, MN: Klock & Klock, 1978 reprint), p. 412.

3. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses, Arranged in the Form of a Harmony, vol. III (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950), p. 19.

4. Editor’s note: It often comes as a surprise to many people to learn that Dr. Rushdoony had such a dim view of Elihu (here designated as being a “nothing” and, elsewhere in his books, as a “nobody”). However, there is remarkably strong warrant for his view, a view which can be found in other highly-esteemed expositions of the Book of Job. Deeper study will show that Rushdoony’s perspective on Elihu holds a significant place in the historic development of our understanding of the text.

John Franklin Genung (1850-1919) was chosen to contribute the commentary on Job for The Expositor’s Bible, and also published a stand-alone commentary on the book as well (The Epic of the Inner Life: Being the Book of Job Translated Anew, and Accompanied with Notes and an Introductory Study, originally published in 1891 by Houghton, Mifflin and Company in both Boston and New York). 

In his study, Genung demonstrates why the question “Who is this that darkeneth counsel with words without knowledge?” is actually referring to Elihu and not to Job. Genung provides a large host of reasons why this should be so.

First, it was Elihu’s speech that was cut off abruptly by the approaching storm, forcing an awkward, premature close to Elihu’s dissertation. Genung’s analysis of the text is valuable here.

Second, Elihu made a point of saying he was full of words and would utter knowledge. As an examination of an interlinear Hebrew Bible shows, Genung is correctly in translating Job 32:17-18 as “I will utter knowledge, even I. For I am full of words…” And he is just getting started at this point.

Third, Genung translates Elihu’s words at Job. 36:4-5 with equal precision: “For of a surety my words are no lie; -- It is the Perfect in knowledge that is with thee.” Elihu here claims flawless knowledge (as the interlinear Hebrew points out). “He identifies his thoughts with the mind of God,” as Genung explains.

Fourth, the rebuke of Job 38:2 points right back at the “words” (declarations) of “knowledge” explicitly claimed by Elihu. His claim to knowledge is shut down completely by the Lord God. In terms of offering any resolution to the issue of Job’s plight, Elihu had darkened counsel with his words: words which were actually without knowledge despite his strenuous advertising to the contrary.

Fifth, this fully explains the third-person question, “Who is this?” The dismissal of Elihu is an abrupt and deflating rebuke, and God, who had interrupted the young man’s speech and ruined the flow of it, now turns to speak directly to Job in the second-person: “Gird up thy loins now, like a strong man. And I will ask thee; and inform Me thou.” But Elihu’s speech was “without knowledge” despite its lofty claim to flawless knowledge. That God’s rebuke follows immediately after Elihu’s words of knowledge makes clear that Job’s words weren’t the subject of censure and rebuke (as he hadn’t spoken in quite some time): Elihu’s words precipitated the rebuke. God spared Job from hearing more dark counsel from Elihu by cutting off his pretensions.

Of course, the majority view sees Job as the target of God’s rebuke at Job 38:2. But Dr. Rushdoony, leaning on the careful scholarship conducted by men such as Genung and his predecessors, can more fully account for the many otherwise-missed details in this passage of Job than the traditional view can. While his view seems initially controversial (because we rarely hear it in our theologically superficial age), this is not due to the idea being untenable but rather that we lack familiarity with it.

For these and other reasons, Dr. Rushdoony held that Elihu was a pretentious and arrogant cipher, as Genung had done in the previous century.

5. Paul I. Morentz and Herbert C. Alleman, “The Book of Leviticus,” in Herbert C. Alleman and Elmer E. Flack, editors, Old Testament Commentary (Philadelphia, PA: The Muhlenberg Press, 1957), p. 261f.

6. Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, vol. I (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982 reprint), p. 491.

7. N. H. Snaith, Leviticus and Numbers (London, England: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1967), p. 136.

8. Porter, op. cit., p. 159.

9. R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), p. 203.


Topics: Biblical Commentary, Biblical Law, Theology

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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