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“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the LORD your God…Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 18:1-30)
We all have a choice to make. Will I save my life and thereby lose it; or will I lose my life to Christ and thereby save it? Our Savior declares plainly and repeatedly, “Whosoever shall save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:24; Matthew 10:39; 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 17:33; John 12:25). Leviticus 16 speaks about Christ atonement, the redemption of his people. Chapter 17 shows us the preciousness of our Savior’s blood. Here, in Leviticus 18, God our Savior reveals and insists upon his claims as our Lord. Here we are taught, as we are taught throughout Holy Scripture, that faith in Christ involves the total surrender of our lives to the will and rule of our Lord Jesus Christ. — “Whosoever shall save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”
The Lord God knew that the children of Israel, like us, were but dust, easily blown here and there, easily swayed and prone to every abominable imagination, susceptible to every form of idolatry, and quick to embrace the traditions, customs, and habits of the world around them.
We all like to think of ourselves as independent, free thinking men and women, people of conviction who cannot be swayed by the opinions and approval or disapproval of others. But that is not the way things really are. We are all more easily moved by the opinions of others than dandelion seeds are scattered by the wind!
It is precisely this weakness of our depraved, sinful nature that necessitated the 18th chapter of Leviticus. In anticipation of the trials and temptations Israel would face in the wilderness and in anticipation of the trails and temptations they would face in the land of Canaan, the Lord God here instructed and commanded his people not to practice or even participate in the “abominable customs” they learned in Egypt, and forbids them to embrace and practice those same “abominable customs” that would surround them in Canaan.
The subject of Leviticus 18 is the “abominable customs” of men and women who do not know our God. Here the Lord our God teaches us that we must refuse to walk in the ways of the world and walk in his way. We must refuse to practice the doings of the world and do his judgments and keep his ordinances.
Remember, the law of God was given to Israel alone. It was never given to the nations around them. It was given only to Israel. Even in the Old Testament, the law was not given to Gentiles, but to Jews only. The Lord God called the ways, the doings, the customs, the statutes, and the religions of the Egyptians and the Canaanites wickedness. But he never gave his law to them. Why? The answer should be obvious.
The statutes we read in Leviticus 18 were given to point us to Christ, our Lord and Redeemer. They are statutes of divine worship given to God’s covenant people, based upon a covenant relationship, and motivated by covenant grace.
As we read through these 30 verses of Inspiration, you will see that in this chapter the Lord God deals plainly with the most personal decisions of a man’s life, and with the most intimate relationships of his home and family, demanding that his will be obeyed and his honor maintained, even in these intimate areas of life.
We resent anyone’s interference in these matters. We do not want anyone telling us who we can marry, how we are to live our lives, what we may or may not do, especially in the privacy of our homes and bedrooms. We resent anyone’s intrusion into these matters. — We all do.
But our heavenly Father silences any possible objection to his intrusion in the most tender, loving manner possible. He prefaces his instructions, his demands, by reminding us of his sovereign mercy, love, and grace toward us, thereby silencing every possible objection to that which he here demands. Six times he reminds us, “I am the Lord (Jehovah) your God” (vv. 1, 4, 5, 6, 21, 30). With those words, he says, “I have loved you. I chose you. And I redeemed you. I brought you up out of Egypt. I destroyed your enemies. And I am bringing you into Canaan. I have the right, and I have earned the right to rule your life!”
Faith in Christ
We fulfil the law of God only by faith in Christ.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the LORD your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.” (vv. 1-5)
First, the Lord God, our God and Savior, here commands us to strictly and conscientiously avoid the deeds and the ordinances of both the Egyptians and the Canaanites. In doing so, it is obvious that our Lord is here demanding that as his people we must constantly guard against the horrid tendency of our flesh to yield to the corrupt ways (“doings”) and the corrupt religion (“ordinances”) of the world.
Rather, we are to observe his ordinances, his statutes, and his judgments. We are to live by the rule of his Word.
Our God says, “Which if a man do, he shall live in them.” — Does that mean that sinners can save themselves by obeying God’s law? Of course not! But it does mean this. — If you and I worship God in the way he reveals in his Word, in the way of his ordinances, statutes, and judgments, trusting Christ alone for all righteousness and redemption, we shall live forever in him. That is exactly the meaning of Romans 3:31, 1 John 3:23-24, and 1 John 5:2-5. Read what the Spirit of God tells us in Romans 9:30-10:4.
“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.
Beginning at verse 6, the Lord starts to get very personal. Here, we see that God our Savior demands universal dominion over our lives. The generation of religious infidels is ignorant of it, but faith in Christ involves the surrender of our lives to the Son of God, bowing to him as Lord. To trust Christ is to lose your life to him (Matthew 10:39).
Verses 6-19 give a detailed prohibition against incest.
“None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD. The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. The nakedness of thy father’s wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father’s nakedness. The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover. The nakedness of thy son’s daughter, or of thy daughter’s daughter, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover: for theirs is thine own nakedness. The nakedness of thy father’s wife’s daughter, begotten of thy father, she is thy sister, thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s sister: she is thy father’s near kinswoman. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother’s sister; for she is thy mother’s near kinswoman. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s brother, thou shalt not approach to his wife: she is thine aunt. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy son’s wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife: it is thy brother’s nakedness. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, neither shalt thou take her son’s daughter, or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness. Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time. Also thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness.”
In these verses, the Lord expressly forbids the incestuous unions (in marriage or not) of parents and children — step-parents and step children — siblings — step-siblings — aunts and uncles with nephews and nieces — cousins — even step cousins and in-laws.
Though polygamy was tolerated (because of the hardness of men’s hearts, Matthew 19:8), a man was forbidden to marry sisters, lest they vex one another as Leah did Rachel. Temporary considerations were allowed prior to this. But by this law, the Lord established a family order of the greatest possible stability and peace.
God calls the practice of these evils “horrid wickedness.” Andrew Bonar rightly observed that…
“The transgression of this law is reckoned one of the marks of Israel’s great corruptions (Ezekiel 22). Every sensual feeling must be subordinated to the Lord’s will; and men must live as the Lord appoints. Their happiness consists in letting their soul flow out in the channel of the Lord’s will.”
Verse 20 forbids adultery. — “Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour’s wife, to defile thyself with her.” And verse 21 prohibits idolatry, which is the root cause of all moral corruption in society. — “And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.”
This is the first time we read about this horrid evil in Holy Scripture. But it is frequently mentioned after this. Following the counsel of Balaam, the children of Israel, while claiming to worship God, dedicated their children to Molech, walking them through rows of fire in solemn ceremony to Jehovah, and even offered their children as sacrifices to Molech in the name of Jehovah!
In verse 22, the Lord God stamps his judgment upon homosexuality and every form of Sodomy. — “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” In verse 23, he expands his denunciation to include that which is the child of homosexuality, bestiality. — “Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.” — These acts of horrid wickedness are both the result of divine judgment and the cause of it.
“Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you.” (vv. 24-28)
In divine judgment, in judicial reprobation, the Lord God justly leaves men and women to their own lusts. Sodomy, bestiality, pedophilia, and abortion (the murder of babies in and from the womb) are the result of will-worship, the idolatry of freewill/works religion (Romans 1:18-32). Then, when men and women have filled the cup of their wrath, God casts them into hell, spewing them out of the earth they have defiled!
If you and I follow the way of the wicked, the earth will soon spew us out into hell as well. If we follow the way of Balaam, if we receive the mark of the beast, if we embrace the religion of antichrist, — The Worship of Man! — The Worship of Self! — Will-worship! — Worshipping the Work of Our Own Hands! — even if we call it worshipping Christ, we shall be forever damned!
“For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.” (vv. 29-30)
“And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:20-21)
“Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” (Jude 1:21)
What does God the Holy Spirit intend for us to learn from this chapter? What is its purpose? Why was it written? Here are five things I hope will help you to walk with God and honor him in the totality of your being.
1. The Lord God almighty is God indeed. Because he is God, he has the absolute right as God to rule you and me, to control our thoughts and our deeds. — Is it not lawful for him to do with his own what he will? Because he is God, he and he alone determines and declares both the evil and the good (Isaiah 45:7).
2. The Word of God alone is our rule of Life. — This Book and this Book alone is and must be authoritative in the church and kingdom of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
3. The heart of man is a thoroughly corrupt cesspool of iniquity. The horrible, shameful crimes against God and man described in this chapter are so basic to our nature that God speaks of them here as the defilement of the nations.
Such is the vileness of the human heart that all these forms of depravity were anticipated by the Lord God who knows the heart. He knows the hell that is in that poisoned spring. Men see another commit some atrocity and say, “I cannot understand how a person can do that.” But the Lord God, looking on the hearts even of his own people Israel, knew that they, like us, would be incessantly tempted to the most abominable evils imaginable. They, like us, were tempted by the pressures of the society around them, because of their own corrupt hearts’ lusts, to incorporate into the worship and service of God the sacrifice of their children for their own sins and the approval of the basest of deeds in the name of moral freedom and religious tolerance!
“How awful is the Lord’s judgment of the human heart! He knew that an Israelite, though surrounded as an Israelite of course was, with everything that could fence in his morality, might nevertheless have a heart so foul as to burst all bounds, and transgress all limits, and overflow all banks. — ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it? I the Lord search the heart; I try the reins’ (Jeremiah 17:9-10).” (Andrew Bonar)
4. How I pray that God will show us the wonder of this fourth great lesson! — This Holy Lord God declares himself to be our God because of his redeeming mercy, love, and grace! He begins and ends the chapter like this — “I am the Lord (Jehovah!) your God” (vv. 2, 30).
Because he is the Lord our God by his great grace, by his blood atonement, because he loved us, because he chose us, because he redeemed us, because he saved us, he has the right to possess us and rule us totally. — And blessed be his name, we want him to do so (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 19-20).
5. The Lord God demands that we take his side. There is a way that seems right to man; but it is the way of cursing, everlasting cursing. There is a way despised by men; but it is the way of blessing, everlasting blessing (Deuteronomy 11:26-29; Joshua 24:14-15).
“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
“We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:3)
 Obviously, Cain and Abel had no such law as this. They married their sisters. — Noah’s grandchildren were not under such a law. They married either siblings or cousins. — Abraham had no such law. He married Sarah, his half-sister.