Lessons from Leviticus – Chapters 18-22

In this paper we begin the second main section of the book, namely, the Requirements of Fellowship and Mans Acceptance with God in Sanctification, chs. 18-27; review again the full summary given in paper 1.

God requires that His people “shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy”, 19. 2. In this paper we shall consider chapters 18-22, where we have: Prohibitions, religious, moral and social, chs. 18, 19; Punishments, ch. 20; Priestly relationships, chs. 21, 22. What God expects from His people in character and conduct is summarised in the religious requirements, moral restraints, and social responsibilities described in chapters 18, 19. God says, “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God”, 18. 4. More than twenty times, the expression “I am the Lord” serves to emphasize the divine requirement for holiness. Egypt and Canaan might have their practises and philosophies, but Israel must be guided by the Word of God, 18. 3. For every believer, the Word of God must be the final arbiter in every question and the answer to every conscience. There is not, nor can there be, any other final authority.

Religious requirements were followed by moral restraints, for God’s people were to keep God’s ordinances lest they committed any of the abominable customs of the lands in which they dwelt, and so defiled themselves, 18. 30. A careful reading of this chapter leaves no doubt as to the utter depravity of man and of his sinful capabilities. In God’s sight he is morally depraved “from the sole of the foot even unto the head”, Isa. 1. 6, but in Christ there is “a new creation”, 2 Cor. 5. 17 R.V. marg. Paul exhorted the believers not to be fashioned according to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, Rom. 12. 2; only in this way would they be preserved from all that would destroy them morally and spiritually.

Social responsibilities were a vital part of Israel’s economy. In the harvest of their fields they were forbidden wholly to reap the corners of the fields, and they were to leave them for the poor and the stranger in their midst, Lev. 19. 9, 10. An essential quality of God’s holiness is His beneficence, and His tender concern for the needy. It is the privilege and duty of His people to be as their Lord. They are to be fair and just in their dealings with their fellows, 19. 13; patient with the deaf and considerate to the blind, 19. 14; they are to refrain from tale-bearing, 19. 16, and respect those who are their elders, 19. 32. Surely these are relevant reminders to all in this our day and age.

Chapter 20 deals with the matter of Punishments, to be inflicted as the consequence of disobedience. Two aspects of divine judgment are considered, one in relation to God Himself, and the other to the land. First there is the disaster of profanity. Any man who sacrificed his children to the god Molech was to be put to death, and the people of the land would stone him with stones, 20. 2. God would set His face against that man, because he had defiled the sanctuary and profaned God’s holy name, 20. 3. The gravity of the sin was not only its intrinsic horror, but its denial of worship to Jehovah; for this the punishment was death. Worship is always the believer’s highest privilege; let nothing, or no-one, rob him of it.

Secondly, there is the desolation of pollution. From the days of creation man and the earth have been closely related. As a consequence of man’s sin, God said, “cursed is the ground for thy sake’’, Gen. 3. 17, and until now the whole creation groans in pain, Rom. 8. 22. The prophets repeatedly emphasized the connection between man and earth’s pollution. This land, though fertile, had for ages remained fruitless and barren; men had corrupted it, and it had vomited them out, Lev. 20. 22.

When God restores His people, it will again become the garden of the Lord, fruitful and beautiful. Man’s effort to control his environment produces only desolation, and man becomes a prisoner of his own inventions. It was Jehovah’s purpose that His people should be separated from the other nations in order that they might be a people for His own possession, 20. 26. To be truly His they must keep His commandments, for only in that way could they demonstrate their love for Him. The words of the Lord Jesus to His disciples were, “If ye love me, keep my commandments”, John 14. 15.

The final section of our present study relates to Priestly relationships, chs. 21, 22, in which we have the office of priesthood, 21. 1 to 22. 16, and the offerings to Jehovah, 22. 17-33. The office of priesthood demanded no defilement, for the worship of God at all times required absolute cleanliness. With the exception of the next of kin, contact with death in any form was forbidden, since death was the penalty of sin, 21. 1, 2. “I the Lord, which sanctify you” is a phrase three times recorded, 21. 8, 15, 23, and emphasizes the necessity of spiritual separation in the service of the Lord, even in the minutest details, such as in the clothes we wear, the books we read, the pleasures in which we engage, in matters of home and business life. God commands His people to be holy in all manner of living, 1 Pet. 1. 15. So often what may be considered innocent and natural for others, must be considered totally inconsistent in God’s people. Further, in the office of priesthood there must be no deformity, Lev. 21. 17-24. “No man…of the seed of Aaron the priest” that “hath a blemish”…“shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire”, 21. 21. No cripple was permitted to exercise the priestly office, for God demanded perfection. To indicate that there was no personal blame for his physical defect, such a person was allowed to eat of the bread, though he was not permitted to offer it, and thus in symbol to demonstrate that strength not weakness must characterize those who minister in holy things. No distinction was permitted in the matter of holy things, 22. 1-16, for, “What man soever of the seed of Aaron is a leper..shall not eat of the holy things, until he be clean”, 22. 4. Sin in the priest was not to be distinguished from sin in the people, though the responsibility of the priest was greater.

The section concludes with the conditions relating to the Offerings to Jehovah, 22. 17-33. Not only was the priest himself to be free from blemish and defilement, but all that he offered was to be of the same character. “Without blemish” characterized the offerings, for God accepted only that which was perfect, 22. 19, 21. This was but the shadow of good things to come, for Christ, perfect Priest and Sacrifice, “offered himself without spot to God”, that the conscience may be purged from dead works to serve the living God, Heb. 9. 14.