1And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God.3 You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. 4 You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. 5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD. – Leviticus 18:1-5
You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead.
Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1Corinthians 6:12-20
Chapter 18 of Leviticus is the dreaded chapter regarding sexual ethics that sadly, tends to get more publicity than perhaps the rest of the book. Personally, I would enjoy seeing more cardboard signs and posters citing chapter 25 in the lobbyist sectors of Washington, D.C. where it talks about how all debts are to be forgiven every 50 years and property returned to its original owners. Somehow, I don’t think our multi-million dollar corporations that built themselves gathering up local businesses would appreciate that kind of congressional move. I can dream though… Actually, chapter 18 and 19 go together to discuss the overall moral regulations of Israel, sexual ethics being the main topic of 18, while 19 covers the rest of the social gamut of prohibited behavior.
Sexual ethics are a really personal, powerful, and often complicated topic with people, which may be why there was a whole chapter devoted to them. I am certainly no expert and do not pretend to be, and in the wars fought over what is right or wrong, my opinion does not amount to much compared with the vast amount of scholarship and experience of others who have already pioneered these roads. I only bring the topic up because there is an entire chapter devoted to it, and to simply avoid a subject because it is controversial feels like a lack of integrity on my part in my efforts to walk through the book of Leviticus with you. Rather than go through, verse by verse, and extrapolate all the prohibited relationships, I think it may be more profitable to focus on two main points here: God’s introduction to sexual ethics as setting Israel apart from the rest of the world, and the similarities between the moral laws and the dietary laws as a whole.
The chapter on sexual ethics (and moral ethics as a whole) is introduced by God telling Israel that they are not supposed to act like everyone else around them. Not only are they not supposed to use the “well everyone else is doing it” excuse – they are not supposed to be found guilty of association. God makes it clear that it is not simply one group of people in the world or in their past (Egypt) they are not to imitate, but they are not supposed to imitate anyone else down the road in their future either (Canaan). Instead, they are to look to God Himself, and His rules as the way to base their life. In other words, when we are trying to figure out who we are and how we want to live in this world, we are not to look to our neighbors around us, but rather to our Heavenly Father – with the full understanding that the way He instructs us to live will most likely not fit in with the way everyone else lives.
Why would God do that? I have not been to the Northwest U.S., but I have several friends from the Portland area who have told me that there are signs in the city (which I found on google) stating “Keep Portland Weird!” Is that what God wanted from the Israelites? To have the world see them as simply weird? I don’t think so. While Israel, and we as Christians may often appear weird as a consequence of our beliefs and actions, I think God actually does something greater in asking us to be separate from the world – in asking us to be holy as He is holy. He wants the world to look at us, at the way we behave and relate to one another, and to see Him. He the world to see people who honor their bodies, and the bodies of those around them – not using them for their own profit or pleasure, but treating one another as the image of God in which we were made.
I believe this moral standard God calls us to reflects the same spirit of the dietary laws. Certainly, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, we are free to do as we please in our personal lives. Not everything we do is good for us though, and what we do to ourselves, we do to Christ, who has joined Himself with us when we accept His salvation and make Him Lord of our lives. When we dishonor ourselves, we dishonor God. What Israel did in their homes was reflected in the temple and what we do on our own time is reflected in God’s presence in us and in the Heavens. Why is God so picky about all these details in our life? Why does He not give us some space to just do our own thing without worrying about Him? He is not constantly looking over our shoulder with a checklist of things we do or fail to do. He is not trying to set us up for failure everywhere we turn. He was teaching Israel, and He teaches us today, that worshipping Him is far more than sacrificing livestock and resources at His altar. Worship is about living life in a way that brings Him honor, and paints a true picture to the world of Who our God really is, so that when they look at us, they see Him. That doesn’t mean we just all need to be nicer people. It means, when we are trying to figure out who we are and how we should live – we ask God and follow Him regardless of what anyone else says or whether we understand it all ourselves.
P.S. – Chapter 19:17-18 says it is also immoral to hold a grudge… perhaps we need some posters and lobbying about that one as well.
P.P.S. – Leviticus 19:14 says you should not make fun of deaf people (who can’t hear you) or put stumbling blocks in the path of blind people. (These Israelites must have been some naughty people if that had to be specifically written in their lawbook.)