These chapters are part of what is called the holiness code in the Book of Leviticus. This is how we are called to live. We have already seen that obedience to God's commandments brings life. We know that the Israelites struggled to be obedient daily...just like we do. At this point in the Israelites journey they are wedged between the Egyptians whose customs they knew well, and the Canaanites whom they did not know. But the Canaanites also had many practices that were detrimental to the Israelites holiness. Israel was called to be holy because their God was holy. So, God set forth commands that would govern the way the Israelites were to live. The fact that God lists them likely means the Israelites were already practicing some of these things their pagan neighbors were doing.
There are 23 verses in chapter eighteen that deal with unlawful sexual relations. Many of them make us go eww. God did not want His people engaged in these specific activities because they were part of pagan worship practices. Not only that, but there were also health and sanitary concerns for these types of behavior as well. God had chosen Israel to be the channel through which His Son would come into the world and it was important that channel be sanctified. The breakdown of marriage in the Jewish society and the adopting of pagan practices could threaten God’s plan for their redemption. Over the course of this reading, we see the Lord remind His people repeatedly He is the Lord. There are no other gods...only the Lord. Somehow repeating that gave God hope His people would remember. God also reminds His people that the pagan practices were detestable to Him and because of those practices, the land would vomit them out. God had not made any covenants with these pagan nations, but He still judged them for their deeds. This was a warning for the Israelites as well. If they were disobedient to the Lord, the land would vomit them out too.
Chapter 19 brings more laws and a reviewing of the Ten Commandments. There is no discernible order to these laws other than they are all related to the Ten Commandments in some way. These Ten Commandments are the basis for all Jewish law and should be the basis for all moral law as well. There are three classifications to these laws: their relationship to God, their relationship to others and their relationship to things. You will notice that The Lord calls these laws His. They are My statutes, My ordinances, My sabbath, and the tabernacle is My sanctuary. The law brings sinful, people into the presence of a Sovereign God who has every right to tell us what is right and wrong.
The sabbath was a special sign between God and Israel. Violating the sabbath was a CAPITAL offense! Idolatry also carried with it the death penalty. What we have here emphasizes the importance of following God's instructions for worship. The name of the Lord is sacred and must never be used blasphemously or in an oath we have no intention of filling. Taking the Lord's name in vain is no different whether we say His full name or use the abbreviation omg. It is the same thing. In this time for the Israelites this was a capital offense as well. God was deadly serious when He gave the Israelites these laws and commands.
Even in these times God was concerned with the poor, widows, and orphans. His regulations about harvest show us the provision made for them. The Israelites were not to harvest their grain all the way to the edge of the fields and they were not to pick their grapes or olives a second time. Everything that was left was for the widows, orphans, and the poor as well as the travelers who might pass through. The food that was left was how many of the poorest people lived and survived.
There are also some strange laws mixed in with the others. Mixing things...two different kinds of animals, seeds or fabric may well have been practices related to heathen worship. Or it could be a reminder that Israel is a people set apart by God. They were not to live with others, and they were not to intermarry with other people. The mixing would violate Israel's purity laws. Divination and soothsaying reveal a lack of trust in God to bring the best possible future. God is all powerful and He directs the future.
For these folks beards were a sign of manly dignity, in contrast to the Egyptians who shaved both heads and face. As a sign of mourning, it was customary for a Jewish man to pluck out his beard or shave it off. And it was a pagan custom to shave or cut off only the corner of a beard. Disfiguring the body was dishonoring God who created it. And cutting one's flesh for the dead or tattooing oneself had great significance among Israel's pagan neighbors. In Israel such behavior was a sign of rebellion against God.
Chapter 20 lists the punishments for the breaking of these laws and commands. Most of these laws have death as the consequence for breaking them. In some cases, the people are cut off, which means death. Other times they are to be stoned and on a couple of rare occasions the guilty parties are to be burned with fire. Finally, God reminds His people that the land flowing with milk and honey awaits them. This is a promise of good things. Abundant wildflowers are the source of the honey and the wildflowers would be excellent for grazing flocks and herds. These animals would then produce milk! God has thought of everything for His beloved people. Now if they would just trust Him and be obedient.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W