C.H. Mackintosh wrote of Leviticus 18-20; ‘This section sets before us, in a very remarkable manner, the personal sanctity and moral propriety which Jehovah looked for on the part of those whom He had graciously introduced into relationship with Himself; and, at the same time, it presents a most humiliating picture of the enormities of which human nature is capable’. He then adds, commenting on the word to Moses, ‘I am the Lord your God; 18. 2, ‘Here we have the foundation of the entire superstructure of moral conduct which these chapters present … Jehovah was their God, and He was holy; hence, therefore, they were called to be holy likewise … This is the true principle of holiness for the people of God in all ages’.
We have therefore taken the section from chapters 18-22 to be mainly concerned with moral conduct and uphold the premise that the same principle for holiness among the children of Israel, a personal relationship to God, still applies. It is not enough to claim a position in Christ before God; the new creation demands a change of life-style.
There is here a wide-ranging series of laws relating to morality which we shall consider under three headings:
Sexual Relations, 18. 3-30
The sanctity of marriage and the family is basic to this passage. Chastity is the rule by which everything is judged. The Israelites were not to set their standards by the immoral Egyptians among whom they had lived. They were to be subject to God’s decrees which define the path of life for His people.
Broadly speaking, the laws laid down here divide into two sections: Incestuous Relationships, vv. 3-18. This is the force behind the recurring euphemistic phrase, ‘You shall not uncover the nakedness of in reference to various members of the family. Every kind of incest is wrong. These practices were common in Egypt but in leaving that land they were to forsake its pagan immorality as well.
Lustful Sensuality, vv. 19-30. Other sexual sins were also abhorrent to God – intercourse during menstruation, v. 19, adultery, v. 20, child sacrifice to Molech (which included introducing children to prostitution), v. 21, homosexuality, v. 22 and bestiality, v. 24. These illicit sexual acts were sternly denounced and the passage ends with a graphic picture of the land ‘spuing them out’ if these moral laws were disregarded.
How applicable to our day! We are witnessing a ‘sexual explosion’ all around us. The entertainment media make immorality a medium for comedy and drama. Children through the education system are being taught to condone and consent to immoral acts. Even would-be Christian leaders defend homosexuals and lesbians as though they were conveying the will of God.
Yet the passage before us shows that every kind of sexual aberration is abhorrent to God. God’s character and laws do not change. God’s people must set an example of purity and wholesomeness. It is unthinkable that those whom Christ has cleansed should find pleasure in the filth that preoccupies the minds of so many today.
Practical Holiness, 19. 1-37
The list of moral precepts given here is probably representative rather than exhaustive. Some deal with ceremonials, others with personal conduct. They are difficult to classify and it is outside the scope of this brief article to look at any in detail.
The congregation was given an overriding command, ‘Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy’, v. 2. Holiness was explained in many practical ways, among which were respect for parents, observance of the Sabbath and rejection of idolatry, vv. 3-4. They were to be careful how they presented peace offerings; otherwise they would profane what was holy to the Lord, vv. 5-8. They were to be good neighbours and take care of those less fortunate than themselves. The Ten Commandments were partially reviewed and then augmented to deal with some specifics of everyday life, vv. 9-18.
After another general statement, ‘Ye shall keep my statutes,’ v. 19, three regulations were added: they were not to mate different kinds of animals, plant different kinds of seed in the same field, or wear clothing made of different kinds of material. These highlighted the spiritual principle, that people must not join what God has separated.
There are instructions for the protection of bondmaids (slave girls), vv. 20-22, the aged, strangers and the poor, vv. 32-37, as well as a series of prohibitions relating to heathen practices which could involve the unwary, vv. 26-31.
While many of these regulations do not directly apply to us, the principles involved often do. Certainly, the Sabbath has been superseded by the Lord’s Day without the severe restrictions of the old covenant. And references to the peace offering do not relate to our day except in their typical teaching (which is most important; see previous article on the offerings, Precious Seed, Vol. 44, No. 2). We do not live under a regime of commandments and ordinances, yet we can never claim freedom from God’s will of which these are expressions! With this in mind, we would do well to study this chapter carefully for ourselves.
Capital Punishment, 20. 1-27
The first part of this chapter relates to crimes for which the death penalty applied. Obviously, these were the most serious in God’s sight. They fell into two categories: giving children to Molech, vv. 1-5, and serious sexual wrongs, vv. 6-18. Verses 19-21, an exception, mention incest again, for which capital punishment was not required.
The closing verses are a further exhortation to live lives of personal holiness, with the reminder, ‘I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people’, v. 24. We are God’s separated people today, 2 Cor. 6. 14-18. Separation from sin is one side of the coin; separation to God is the other. Even in our day, in this dispensation of grace, those who ignore our responsibilities as God’s separated people must suffer loss, cf. 1 Cor. 11. 29-32; 1 Pet. 4. 17.
As far as capital punishment is concerned, there are many in our day who regard this as being outmoded, even morally wrong. But the chapter before us sets out God’s standard. True, we cannot impose God’s law upon unbelievers who, sad to say, are reaping a harvest of increasing anarchy because they refuse to suit punishment to the heinous crimes being committed all around us.
Priestly Qualifications, 21. 1-22. 33
The last two chapters were directed at the priest. If standards of morality and personal holiness were high for the people, they must be higher still for the priest. J. Sidlow Baxter draws a parallel between the threefold structure of the tabernacle – the Outer Court, Holy Place and Holy of Holies – and the progressively higher standards of required holiness among the three orders of people – the congregation, priesthood and the High Priest.
He points out that the culmination was in Aaron’s crown on which were the words, ‘Holiness to the Lord’. C.H. Mackintosh observes, ‘These chapters unfold, with great minuteness of detail, the divine requirements in reference to those who were privileged to draw near as priests’. For every believer, called to be saints and priests to God, we have here a salutary reminder of our heavy responsibility and privilege. As the priests of old, we are holy before God. The Aaronic priests were born into their position, they did not compete for it. Through the new birth we are appointed to the position we occupy before Him. It is for us to measure up to this high calling in ihe way we live for Him.
The regulations for the priests were mainly prohibitions. They concerned practices to be avoided, 21. 1-15; people to be eschewed, 21. 16-22. 16; and offerings unacceptable to God, 22. 17-33.
Practices, 21. 1-15. These were personal prohibitions to do with attaining ceremonial fitness. They were to avoid contact with the dead, except close relatives. Heathen signs of grief were disallowed, vv. 5-6, as were marriages to prostitutes and divorcees, vv. 7-8. Harlotry on the part of priests’ daughters were punishable by death, v. 9. Restrictions on mourning and marriage were stricter than for the congregation, vv. 10-15.
People, 21. 16-22. 16. The physically handicapped were not allowed to assume priestly responsibilities, although they enjoyed the priest’s portion from offerings, 21. 16-24. There is a balance here between the holiness and compassion of God. There were restrictions on what could be eaten, 22. 1-16.
Offerings, 22. 17-33. A brief review of burnt and peace offerings is given, followed by a list of restrictions and limitations. The constant principle is one of providing perfect sacrifices in anticipation of our Lord’s perfect sacrifice, Heb. 10. 12.
As the sacrifice had to be complete and unblemished, so the priesthood had to be fit for the responsibility that was theirs. As God’s priesthood today, we too must be fit for this responsibility. In our condition we must measure up to our position. True, as with the priests of old, there are natural deficiencies but these do not interfere with our standing before God. Some were prevented from ministering before the Lord or entering within the veil. Those who were defiled could not eat the priests’ portion, 22. 6-7. But priests they remained. Yet each was required to measure up to the high standard that God had set.
God does not expect us to give more than we are able. But He does require us to ‘walk worthy of the vocation wherewith (we) are called,’ Eph. 4. 1.