Keeping the Moral and Spiritual Laws
We now begin the second major part of the book of Leviticus. The first part contained instructions on how to obtain holiness:
- Through offerings.
- By having a consecrated priesthood present the offerings of the people directly to God in a holy place (Tabernacle complex).
- By distinguishing between clean and unclean.
- By observing the Day of Atonement each year.
The second part of the book, which begins in chapter 17, provides the people with instructions about how one stays or maintains personal holiness.
The first section of the second part deals with one's personal responsibility to keep the moral and spiritual laws given by God in chapters 17-20. The first section (chapter 17) deals with issues related to blood.
I. The Sanctity of Blood – Leviticus 17:1-16
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.
- Leviticus 17:11
Since blood played such an important role in the sacrificial system, which in turn was used by God to sanctify His people, it is logical that it be the first topic to consider when reviewing various laws and regulations that helped maintain the holy nature given to the Israelites by God.
A. Only Domestic Animals Killed as Sacrifices – Leviticus 17:1-9
No animal was to be killed or sacrificed for food by any Israelite except at the Tabernacle. Slaughtering an animal for food without sacrifice was forbidden. Note that they had manna to eat and rarely ate meat since animals were so valuable and needed to begin breeding when they arrived at the Promised Land.
The main purpose of this rule was to centralize worship at the Tabernacle and to stop the pagan practice of sacrificing animals to pagan gods in open fields. Each territory had its local gods and people would offer sacrifices to appease these deities as they travelled from place to place. The Jews had God dwelling among them within the Tabernacle and He led them from place to place, eventually to the Promised Land. This was a serious offense in that it denied the priests their portion of food and was punishable by being "cut off from the people," which could mean:
- The elimination of a line of descendants.
- Excommunication from the community.
- Execution by the Lord Himself.
This offense was considered as serious as killing a human – vs. 4.
B. Eating Blood was Prohibited – Leviticus 17:10-12
10'And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. 11For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.' 12Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, 'No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.'
- Leviticus 17:10-12
This teaching quickly establishes three purposes:
- Repeats and confirms the prohibition of against eating blood – Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:26-27.
- Gives the reason behind the rule. Life is in the blood and blood is used to atone for sin.
- God will Himself punish those who violate this law.
The idea being that if you eat the blood, you may forfeit your own lifeblood for doing so.
C. Wild Animals Killed by Hunters – Leviticus 17:13-14
The Israelites could kill and eat a "clean," wild animal, but not it's blood. The blood ban was for all animals since blood played the same part in every living creature's life.
D. Animals that Died from Other Causes – Leviticus 17:15-16
Again, this refers to the "clean" category of animals who died from illness, accident, or were killed by other animals. For the Jew, just touching an animal that had died in these ways made him unclean and he would need to quarantine until dark, bathe, and then return to camp. The carcass, however, could be sold to a foreigner (Deuteronomy 14:21).
The Bible permits a person to eat meat (New Testament permits all types of meat – Acts 10:9-16; Romans 14:2-3) and permits those who refrain from eating meat (Romans 14:3). It also makes the distinction between humans (made in the image of God – Genesis 1:27) and animals created by God but not in His image. There is a difference in the value of a human and an animal according to the Bible.
II. Forbidden Sexual Relations – Leviticus 18:1-30
For Israel to become a holy nation, deviant sexual behavior had to be identified and labeled as sin. This chapter can be divided into three parts:
- Introduction – who gave the laws and why – Leviticus 18:1-5.
- The laws required to obey – Leviticus 18:6-23.
- Summary and consequences for disobedience – Leviticus 18:24-30.
1Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2"Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'I am the Lord your God. 3You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. 4You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God. 5So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.
- Leviticus 18:1-5
In the introduction there is the reminder that the laws about to be given come from God Himself and are given to Moses who will relay them to the people. These laws are part of the on-going process to transform these people into the holy people of God. The reward for obeying these is not simply a holier life experience, but also a continuing life experience.
B. The Details of the Prohibitions – Leviticus 18:6-23
1. Sexual relations with relatives prohibited – Leviticus 18:6-18
This included a man having sex with:
- His mother – vs. 7
- His stepmother (father's wife) – vs. 8
- His sister or half-sister – vs. 9
- His granddaughter – vs. 10
- His step-sister – vs. 11
- His aunt – vs. 12-14
- His daughter-in-law - vs. 15
- His sister-in-law vs. - 16
- A woman and her daughter or granddaughter – vs. 17
- A woman and her sister (while she is living) – vs. 18
This is not a complete list of possible incestuous relationships (father/daughter not mentioned) but is representative of the entire issue of incestuous relationships. These were now formally prohibited for two reasons:
A. The negative genetic effects of incest:
- Twice the risk of early mortality,
- Ten times the risk of suffering mental retardation or physical deformities.
B. The negative family and social conflicts as the result of incest.
2. Other sexual relations prohibited – Leviticus 18:19-23
- A man having sex with a woman while on her period – This had to do with the issue of blood, and it rendered one ceremonially unclean. It was also a consideration of love and kindness to the woman while she was indisposed.
- A man having sex with a neighbor's wife – Repeating the commandment from Exodus 20:14. This was a capital offense for both parties.
- A man offering a child to the pagan god Molech – This was idolatry and idolatry was considered spiritual adultery, hence the inclusion of this command in this list.
- Sexual relationships with those of the same sex – This activity was seen by God as both an abomination (disgusting) and detestable (filthy) – Leviticus 20:13. This was also a capital offense. Not all of these prohibitions were carried over to the New Testament (i.e. sex with a woman on her period) but homosexual practice was (I Corinthians 6:9-10). Widespread homosexuality is usually the marker used in the Bible to convey acute moral decay in a society and a precursor to its judgement (Sodom and the cities surrounding it – Genesis 19; the Roman Empire – Romans 1:26-27.
- Sexual relations with an animal (beastiality) – This was forbidden for both men and women. It was a practice of the Canaanites who drew pictures of their gods mating with animals. This also was a capital offense where both the animal and the person were killed.
3. Punishments for Disobedience – Leviticus 18:24-30
The reasons and consequences for these prohibitions were quite simple:
- The people in the land where He was leading them to were all guilty of these sorts of sins and for that reason God was going to judge them and He didn't want His people to repeat this behavior and suffer the same consequences. "Being spewed out of the land" is a poetic way of saying they would be destroyed.
- Forty years later God would use His people led by Joshua to enter the land of Canaan and execute His judgement by annihilating the people and animals, and by completely taking over their land, houses, and cities.
God required His people to be holy in the Tabernacle when they came before Him in the rituals of worship, but He also required holiness in the intimacy of sexual relations as well – He was to be honored in every place.
Whether one was a Jew living in the Promised Land or a New Testament Christian living in America, it is not our country or society that dictates what is acceptable to God concerning our sexual behavior – His word sets the boundaries for what is sexually moral and nothing has changed from the beginning – the ideal we strive for is one man and one woman sharing sexual intimacy within marriage only, for life.
III. Social Regulations for God's People – Leviticus 19:1-37
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
- Leviticus 19:18
So far in this book God has given the people regulations for how to deal with the most important Individual in their lives, Who was God Himself.
- The way to approach and worship Him.
- The building of the place to worship Him.
- The sacrificial system and priests who would offer sacrifices on their behalf.
- Maintaining holiness by discerning clean from unclean.
In chapter 18 we learn about how to maintain and honor the next important relationship in life which is with one's spouse. These are made up of laws prohibiting various sexual practices outside of marriage, promoting fidelity and the blessings that come with a unified marriage.
In chapter 19 God provides what seems like a variety of rules and regulations, but when taken together they serve to guide His people in their relationships with their neighbors. Therefore, all relationships are addressed in order to provide peace and satisfaction with God, marriage partner, and neighbor.
A. Introduction – The Giver of Laws
1Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2"Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, 'You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
- Leviticus 19:1-2
As He has done before, God states the source of the Laws (Himself), which give them credibility. He also states the purpose of keeping these laws – to become and maintain holiness as the people of God. This chapter can be divided into three parts:
- Keeping all of God's commandments – vs. 3-10
- Loving one's fellow man – vs. 11-18
- Maintaining the nation's distinctiveness – vs. 19-37
B. Keeping all of God's Commandments – Leviticus 19:3-10
Not all of God's commands are listed, but several are described to represent the whole:
- Honor parents – vs. 3
- Keep the Sabbath day – vs.3
- Don't worship idols – vs. 4
- Don't make idols – vs. 4
- Follow the rules concerning Peace offerings – vs. 5-8.
- A reminder that the meat from this sacrifice could not be eaten beyond the second day after it was sacrificed. Some were hoarding meat, not trusting that God would provide.
- Leave fields (after only one pass) so there would be something left for the gleaners and the poor – vs. 9-10.
- A particular Jewish custom to differentiate themselves and their customs from other nations (2-3 passes for max harvest).
C. Loving One's Fellow Man – Leviticus 19:11-18
These laws dealt with how God's people were to deal with their neighbors, fellow human beings.
- Not to steal from others – vs. 11
- Don't deal falsely (lie) to others – vs. 11
- Don't swear falsely by God's name – vs. 12
- Don't oppress others (enslave) – vs. 13
- Don't rob or withhold wages – vs. 13
- Withholding wages was a form of oppression and theft.
- Don't take advantage of the handicapped – vs. 14
- Render a fair judgment (not favorite, favors, or feelings). Judge based on facts.
- No gossip or slander – vs. 16
- Don't endanger your neighbor with gossip or careless actions – vs. 16
- Don't resent or hold grudges against another – vs. 17.
- You can correct or reprove another but not in such a way that you sin in doing so (verbal attack).
- No revenge, but love neighbor as self – vs. 18
Note that each command reflects one of the original 10 commandments and each is punctuated with the words, "I am the Lord" for emphasis and authority – these are not Moses' commands, they are the Lord's.
D. Maintaining The Nation's Distinctiveness – Leviticus 19:19-37
These various rules highlight Israel's distinct nature as God's holy people – separate in rule and lifestyle from the nations around them.
- No mixing of cattle, seed , or materials – vs. 19.
- Could have been done to highlight that the nation of Israel was not to mix with other nations.
- Sexual sins need to be atoned for – vs. 20-22.
- A man having sex with another man's slave girl was not a capital offense, but still had to be acknowledged and properly atoned for at the Tabernacle (public confession).
- Rules for planting trees for food (in Promised Land) – vs. 23-25.
- To demonstrate their holiness by their absolute faith in God, they would allow fruit trees to mature three years, offer God the first edible crop the fourth year, and only eat the fifth year's crop. This showed their reliance on God to provide in the meantime.
- Jews were forbidden to partake in the pagan social/religious customs – vs. 26-28.
- Eat meat without first draining the blood of the animal.
- Practice divination and soothsaying to learn the will of their gods – Jews had God's word.
- Divination = knowing the will of the gods using various methods, cards, incantations, and palm reading.
- Soothsaying = knowing the future by reading the stars, examining animal organs, etc.
- Cut their beards in certain ways to identify which pagan gods they worshipped.
- Make cuts on their bodies to entreat the help from the gods or the dead.
- They were not to mark their bodies with tattoos as a way to show their pagan religiosity. Jews showed their distinct religious belief with holy behavior and faithful practice of their religion.
- Forbidden to sell daughters into harlotry (temple prostitutes), a common custom among pagans – vs. 29.
- Sons were valuable and could generate income that daughters could not. A man with many unmarried daughters might be tempted to monetize some of his daughters in this way.
- Keep the Sabbaths and maintain the place of worship – vs. 30.
- This would be more difficult once settled in the Promised Land (activities of normal life).
- Mediums and Spiritists were forbidden – vs. 31.
- They already had God's word and God's priests to guide them.
- Honor and care for the elderly – vs. 32
- Love the strangers (aliens/immigrants) in the land – vs. 33-34.
- They were once strangers in Egypt and that nation took advantage of them, don't do the same.
- Be honest in business dealings with all – vs. 35-36
- Summary statement – all the laws given are God's laws, not man's laws – they were to obey because He was the Lord.
By obeying these commands, the Jews witnessed two things:
- Their God was a God of love, justice, and righteousness and this could be seen in what He had done for His people, as well as in the commands He gave them to follow.
- His people were a reflection of the God they worshipped, and this was seen in the holy way that they lived – they were different (in a good way) than all the nations around them.
IV. Penalties For Breaking God's Laws – Leviticus 20:1-27
Chapters 18-19 contained various laws God gave to His people, chapter 20 focuses on the consequences for violating those laws. In a secular society all crimes might be considered as sins of one kind or another, but not all sins are crimes (i.e Adultery is a sin, but not seen as a crime).
However, in a Theocracy like Israel, the only laws that existed were God's laws so all sins were crimes (subject to punishment or making atonement) and all crimes were sins. The sins in chapter 20 are listed in a case basis and divided into two categories.
- Sins of a capital nature requiring he death penalty.
- Less serious sins had lesser punishments.
1. Offering Human Sacrifice to Molech - vs. 1-5
This action disgraced both God and His sanctuary in that an innocent human life was offered to a false god like the way animals were offered to the true God. Punishment was death by the people (stoning) and if the people were unwilling, God would carry out the punishment Himself. The people would also be punished for their refusal to carry out the death sentence.
2. Other Capital Crimes – vs. 6-16
- Consulting mediums or spirits – vs. 6-8
- Cursing one's parents – vs. 9
- Adultery – vs. 10
- Incest (with stepmother or daughter-in-law) – vs. 11-12
- Practicing homosexuality – vs. 13
- Having sex with a woman and her mother – vs. 14
- Practicing beastiality – vs. 15-16
3. Crimes Calling for Other Types of Punishment – vs. 17-21
Non-capital crimes were punished by public disgrace and or banishment, as well as not having descendants listed, or other punishments from God.
- Sex with sister or half-sister – vs. 17
- Sex with a woman during her period – vs. 18
- Sex with an aunt – vs. 19-20
- Sex with a sister-in-law – vs. 21
The prohibitions against sex with an aunt or sister-in-law extended to marriage between these related people. The punishment if they married was that they would be childless (without descendants). Again, not a teaching for every possible breech of God's law, but a sample to use in judging these and comparatively similar cases. They had to use their knowledge of God's laws as well as personal judgement in order to arrive at a proper conclusion.
4. Summary and Exhortation – vs. 22-27
The chapter on laws and punishments concludes with an exhortation to the people to be careful to keep all of God's laws, and the reason why they should do so: to fulfill their unique role as God's holy nation.
A. There were three responsibilities they had to meet in order to reach their goal of staying in the Promised Land as a holy nation.
- Keep all the commands – vs. 22
- Avoid the behavior of the pagan nations – vs. 23-24
- Make the distinctions between clean and unclean – vs. 25
B. God's Exhortation – vs. 26-27
The laws He gave them, if they obeyed, would guarantee that they would truly become a holy nation and for this reason they would experience a special relationship with Him. He finishes by reminding them once again of the inherent danger of consulting any other source (mediums and spiritists) in order to know things in the "spirit" world, things only God could know or reveal. The damage to their spiritual life would be great (plunged back into darkness) and the penalty to their physical lives was also great, death!
Chapter 20 addresses crime (sin) and punishment, and deals with three main ideas:
- Crime/sin always leads to punishment.
- God fits the punishment to the sin (crime).
- God also provided a way for sins to be forgiven.