“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘I am the LORD your God. You 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. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to walk in them; I am the LORD your God.’”
Leviticus 18 is a chapter prohibiting all manner of sexual behavior. These behaviors include such common sense prohibitions as not having sex with one’s sibling (v 9) as well as contentious prohibitions, such as the prohibition against homosexual activity (v 22). The way that society is going, I imagine that it is only a matter of time before society at large thinks it closed-minded of The Bible and those who take The Bible literally to prohibit sex with one’s siblings or with animals (also prohibited in this chapter).
Looking at these prohibitions, it seems to me that they are all reasonable. The prohibitions against sex with a near relative (vv 6-18) are just good sense as any offspring from those pairings would be very likely to have genetic deformities. As for no sex during a woman’s period (v 19), that was just good hygiene at the time.
I am not going to address every prohibition in this chapter, even though they do sort nicely into categories, but am focused instead on how God began these prohibitions. He starts by saying I am the LORD your God. If I begin from this premise, then I agree that He has every right to dictate to me how I am and am not permitted to use my body. He is, after all, its designer and manufacturer. Who better to instruct me in proper operation? But more, the statement is that He is my God, not simply God. This is personal. I am not merely admitting that He exists or that He is the designer and maker of the human body and has every right to mandate proper use of the thing. I am saying that He is MY God and that personalization of things means that I choose to submit to what He instructs. I do not grudgingly accept that He has a right to direct me, but I willingly accept His commands because He is MY God.
And His command is given context. He does not say that these things are not done. Far from it. He tells the Israelites that these behaviors are performed by the Egyptians and the Canaanites. God says that you shall not walk in their statutes. The Israelites were not to do the same things as the people out of whose midst God had brought them or the same things as those God had promised to drive out before them. Instead, He says You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to walk in them.
This context tells me a few things. It tells me that the sexual behaviors prohibited in this chapter were taking place in ancient Egypt and Canaan. These behaviors are not new, nor is social acceptance of them. It tells me that nations who do not adhere to God’s Law are very likely to normalize these behaviors to the point that they become codified in the law of the land.
And all of this comes down to a principle: Those who are God’s must live differently. The Israelites were told not to do what is done in the land of Egypt … or in the land of Canaan. They were told to walk in … [God’s] judgments and … statutes. This would set them apart; make them obviously different than the people living around them. If your neighbor is swapping spouses with your other neighbor while you and your spouse are monogamous, it makes a pretty clear distinction.
And, because I know that ideas like this radical notion that sexual activity should still be governed by the Law and not, say tattoos or mixed fabric garments, I resort to Acts 15:28-29. In those verses, the apostles had discussed the matter and prayed about things and concluded that only certain aspects of The Law really needed to be observed by non-Jewish believers. And fornication — a Greek word (πορνεία porneía) that was a catch-all for any aberrant sexual behavior — was on the short list. Even in the First Century, the apostles were not worried about whether believers had tats or wore cotton-poly blend.
The point of this is that those who are God’s must live differently. If I am to claim to belong to God, then that should impact the way that I live. If I do all the same things as those who are not God’s, then what purpose does belonging to God serve? Do I belong to Him at all? My life; my conduct must be changed if I really believe that the LORD is my God. If He is MY God and MY LORD, then that must manifest in my life and my behavior. If it does not, then I must examine myself, to see whether or not I am truly His.
Thank You, Father, for this reminder that my life must be different. You do not charge the world around me to obey Your statutes, only those who call You their God. Please remind me of that any time I find myself tempted to want to force those who do not claim You as their God to obey You. You do not force it and I should not try to either. I should do as my God does and love. Please change me from the inside out so that the change within manifests as a life lived differently.