“You shall not walk about peddling slander among your countrymen; You shall not stand over the blood of your neighbor. I am the LORD” (Lev 19:16; translation my own).

How easily we can miss the beauty of God's law by treating it like a checklist of do's and don'ts, or like a rental contract we must sign after we've finished reading it. But Deuteronomy 4:5-8 shows us that God's law is wisdom literature: well-crafted, brilliantly packaged, aesthetically beautiful expressions of infinitely divine wisdom requiring a lifetime of careful meditation.

Consider the incredible wisdom of Leviticus 19:16 packaged in poetic beauty which is easily lost in translation. In Hebrew, this verse is a poem with two parallel lines. The first line commands us not to walk; the second, not to stand. The first line presents us with one person walking among many people; the second line is just one person standing over another. The first line is filled with chatter; the second line, with deafening silence. In the first line, the victim is absent; in the second, he is dead at our feet. In the first line, the Hebrew letters of the second and third words are reversed (l-k; k-l); in the second line, the letters of the second and the fourth words are reversed (m-d; d-m). The second line, moreover, is not joined to the first line with the Hebrew word “and” which means we are not exactly looking at two separate commandments. Rather, we are encouraged to consider these two lines as a single commandment that expresses the same or similar idea from two opposite (antithetical) angles. Are you getting the idea?

This simple verse is not so simple, and it beckons us to meditate upon its wisdom for our entire lives.

Deeper Than you May Thought

Now let us consider its meaning. Sounds and silence, according to this verse, are equally detestable to God when it comes to our neighbor. In the first line, the perpetrator spoke when he should have been silent. In the second line, the perpetrator should have spoken instead of being silent. But in either case, when we are slandering or listening to slander about our neighbor we have, in God's eyes, participated in a verbal assassination. We either murder him with our own words, or we murder him with our silence. The end result is still the same: a group of bloodthirsty people standing over the butchered reputation of someone whom we should have protected by being silent or by speaking up. Oh that God would, through his Holy Spirit, write this law upon our hearts so that we will use our words as well as our silence to defend our neighbors!

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Prov 18:21).

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