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Questions From Readers

Questions From Readers

What is the point of the command found at Leviticus 19:16 not to “stand up against the life of” another person, and what lesson can we learn from it?

Jehovah urged the Israelites to be a holy people. In support of this, he told them: “You must not go around spreading slander among your people. You must not stand up against the life of your fellow man. I am Jehovah.”​—Lev. 19:2, 16.

The phrase “stand up against” expresses very well the original Hebrew text, but what does it mean? A Jewish reference work on the book of Leviticus notes: “This part of the verse is . . . difficult to interpret because of the problems in ascertaining the sense of the Hebrew idiom [found here], literally ‘do not stand over, by, near.’”

Some scholars link that phrase to the preceding verse, which says: “You must not be unjust in your judgment. You must not show partiality to the poor or show preference to the rich. With justice you should judge your fellow man.” (Lev. 19:15) In that case, the command found in verse 16 not to “stand up against” someone could mean that God’s people were not to harm a fellow worker in court proceedings, business matters, or family affairs and not to twist things for personal benefit. Granted, we should not do those things, but there is a more logical way to understand this phrase in verse 16.

Consider the opening part of that verse. God commands his people not to go around spreading slander. Keep in mind that slander is more than idle gossip, though such gossip can also create problems. (Prov. 10:19; Eccl. 10:12-14; 1 Tim. 5:11-15; Jas. 3:6) Slander is often expressed in words and is intended to damage someone’s reputation. The slanderer might bear false witness against the other person, even if doing so endangers that person’s life. Recall that slanderous men bore false witness against Naboth, which led to his being unjustly stoned. (1 Ki. 21:8-13) Yes, a slanderer could stand up against another man’s life, as mentioned in the second part of Leviticus 19:16.

Furthermore, malicious slander can reflect a degree of hatred. At 1 John 3:15, we read: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has everlasting life remaining in him.” It is worth noting that God followed up the words found in verse 16 with the statement: “You must not hate your brother in your heart.”​—Lev. 19:17.

Thus, the curious phrase recorded at Leviticus 19:16 provides strong admonition for Christians. We must resist giving in to bad thoughts and slandering another person. Simply put, if we “stand up against” someone by allowing dislike or envy to move us to slander him or her, it could be evidence of or result in hatred. Christians must absolutely avoid that.​—Matt. 12:36, 37.