Saturday, October 31, 2020

Leviticus. Day 70, Rules For Priests, Part One: When A Priest's Relative Dies

Chapter 21 contains regulations for the priests of Israel.

This first prohibition regards situations in which a priest is allowed (or not allowed) to have contact with the dead. Contact with a dead body will render him ceremonially unclean for a period of time. "The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: 'A priest must not make himself ceremonially unclean for any of his people who die, except for a close relative, such as his mother or father, his son or daughter, his brother, or an unmarried sister who is dependent on him since she has no husband---for her he may make himself unclean. He must not make himself unclean for people related to him by marriage, and so defile himself." (Leviticus 21:1-4) 

In Numbers 19:11-22 we find the information that anyone who has contact with a dead body, or who has been inside a tomb where a dead body lies, or who has touched or walked across a grave, will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. That passage of Numbers describes the cleansing ceremony that is to take place according to whichever type of contact a person has had with the dead. During that time a priest would not be able to go about his duties. 

A priest must be available to serve the Lord and minister to the Lord's people as often as possible; therefore, he is to be ceremonially clean as much as is humanly possible while still maintaining his family life outside of his tabernacle duties. If a close blood relative of a priest dies, he is allowed to assist with the burial and with the preparation of the body that takes place beforehand. He can help those who carry the body into the tomb or help those who dig a grave. He is allowed to observe a period of mourning. But if the relative who passed is not a close blood relative, family members other than the priest are to handle all the undertaking duties and burial arrangements.

"Priests must not shave their heads or shave off the edges of their beards or cut their bodies." (Leviticus 21:5) We learned earlier in Leviticus that these were practices of the heathen tribes. When a close relative died, the pagans would alter their appearance. In some cases they shaved their heads and trimmed part of their beards to show they were in mourning. In other cases it is believed the cut hair was used for the purpose of divination ceremonies in which they believed the dead spoke to them through the pattern the hair made when thrown on the ground or suspended in a container of water. The Lord's people must not take part in occult practices or do anything that might give the appearance that they dabble in the occult.

Some of these pagan tribes would cut themselves in grief, deeply enough to leave scars. They might even rub dye into the wounds to produce tattoos to commemorate the dead. The Lord told the citizens of Israel never to take up these mourning rituals in Leviticus 19:28, and in our passage today He issues the warning a second time to the priests to underline how important it is to follow this prohibition. He does not want His people Israel looking like the idolatrous tribes around them. He also does not want His people Israel mourning for the dead as if there is no eternal soul and no bodily resurrection of the dead. 

We quoted the following verse when studying the cutting and tattooing rituals of Leviticus 19 and I think it's a good idea to look at it a second time: "Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope." (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Idolaters went to pretty extreme measures during mourning and this is because they didn't believe in salvation of the eternal soul and a bodily resurrection of the dead. Some of them believed in a shadowy underworld sort of existence of the soul. Some believed the life force of a person rejoined the gods or became a part of the constellations of the skies. But they didn't have the belief you and I have that each person's individual soul survives after death and that it remains an individual soul and that it rejoins the body in the resurrection. You and I believe we will recognize our loved ones and be able to walk and talk with them in eternity. This is why we don't cut ourselves in grief and wail for the dead like people who have no hope. The Lord is cautioning the citizens of Israel, and the priests in particular, not to behave as the heathens do when someone has died.

Tomorrow we will move on into the regulations for the family life of the priests and the Lord will tell them what to look for (and what to avoid) when thinking about getting married and choosing a wife.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Leviticus. Day 69, Penalties For Violating God's Laws, Part Four

We'll conclude Chapter 20 today and our study of the penalties for violating the laws the Lord gave in Leviticus 18.

Our passage is another of those we've found in Leviticus that makes us a bit uncomfortable to discuss, but God put it in the Bible for a reason. He's telling the Israelites how they are to behave when they arrive in the promised land---a land where "anything goes" as far as the tribes there are concerned. Most of the material we'll cover today has to do with violating the sexual prohibitions of Chapter 18. We looked at half of this material yesterday and will finish discussing it today.

Anything goes among the Canaanite tribes, including bestiality. It may be common in the land of Canaan but the Israelites aren't to consider it normal. "If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he is to be put to death, and you must kill the animal. If a woman approaches an animal to have sexual relations with it, kill both the woman and the animal. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads." (Leviticus 20:14-15) The Lord wouldn't even need to bring up this subject if it wasn't a thing that actually happened sometimes. It's something so perverse that it should never enter the mind of human beings, but He's bringing this up because it does happen. It still happens in our world today. It wasn't that long ago in my local news that a man was arrested for having relations with his friend's dog. The friend noticed his dog had an injury and took it to the vet in alarm only to be told the dog had been sexually assaulted. The dog was given medical treatment and expected to recover. 

So why does the Bible say the animal is to be put to death according to verses 14 and 15? I was not able to find out. I consulted a number of commentaries and some of them glossed completely over verses 14 and 15, not wanting to deal with such indelicate matters. Other commentaries made no statement regarding why anyone other than the humans involved in these deeds were to be put to death. Since the chapter we're studying has to do with consensual sexual acts and not acts in which one person is forcing his or her behavior upon another, my only guess is that perhaps in some cases the animals were willing participants and, if so, those animals who engaged consensually in these deeds are put to death because it is unnatural and unusual for an animal to have any interest whatsoever in sexual relations with human beings. 

Moving along, we learned earlier in Leviticus that a man is not to marry a half-sister, although back in Genesis we found out that Abraham was married to his half-sister, but people aren't to do this kind of thing anymore, not even if they weren't raised in the same household as their half-sibling and barely even knew them growing up. Their genetic material is too similar to produce the best offspring due to the risk of birth defects being too high. If half-siblings disobey the Lord and have relations with each other or marry each other, they are to be excommunicated. "If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, and they have sexual relations, it is a disgrace. They are to be publicly removed from their people. He has dishonored his sister and will be held responsible." (Leviticus 20:17) This couple is banished from the community in shame. 

The next verse relates back to the hygiene regulations we studied earlier in Leviticus. "If a man has sexual relations with a woman during her monthly period, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them are to be cut off from their people." (Leviticus 20:18) I assume their isolation from the congregation of Israel is temporary in this case; in Leviticus 15:24 it says if a man lies with a woman during this time he will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just like the woman. If the man refrains from sleeping with his wife during this time, he will not be ceremonially unclean and can go about all his normal business, including visiting the tabernacle. When we talked about this subject a couple of weeks ago we talked about how difficult it was in ancient times to maintain enough hygiene to prevent the spread of bloodborne pathogens and we presumed this was the reason for the self-isolation. A number of viral and bacterial infections are spread through blood and these people were living in a time when showers and soap and sanitary products weren't available to them.

The rest of these prohibitions have to do with marrying or having relations with someone who is too closely related either by blood ties or by legal ties. "Do not have sexual relations with the sister of either your mother or your father, for that would dishonor a close relative; both of you would be held responsible. If a man has sexual relations with his aunt, he has dishonored his uncle. They will be held responsible; they will die childless. If a man marries his brother's wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless." (Leviticus 20:19-20) An exception to verse 20 would be if a man's brother has died childless, leaving a widow behind. A practice known as "Levirate Marriage" could be carried out, in which the surviving brother marries the widow and has children with her to carry on his brother's name. His brother's property would pass to the children of the widow and on down that branch of the family tree. The surviving brother could not pass his dead brother's property to his own children by any wife other than the widow of his brother. But if a man takes his brother's wife away from him while his brother is still living, the Lord won't bless this union with any children.

The Lord begins to wrap up Chapter 20 like this: "Keep all My decrees and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I said to you, 'You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.' I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations." (Leviticus 20:22-24) The tribes of Canaan have indulged in pretty much every sin imaginable. This is why the Lord is uprooting them from the land. He's given them many centuries to repent and they have taken no heed to His voice but instead have grown worse. The Lord cautions the Israelites not to fall into any of the ways of these tribes or else He will also uproot them from the land.

"You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between clean and unclean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground---those that I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to Me because I, the Lord, am holy, and have set you apart from the nations to be My own." (Leviticus 20:25-26) He says to the Israelites (and to those of us today who believe in Him as Lord), "Don't live like unbelievers. You aren't like them and you mustn't live like them. You are My very own children and the way you live must reflect your relationship to Me. I am not like the gods of the pagan nations; their gods aren't even real, but if they were, they wouldn't be worth worshiping and serving. They are as corrupt as those who believe in them. I am holy and different and I'm asking you to be holy and different."

The Lord concludes today's passage with a reminder about not dabbling in the occult. A thing like that will lead them down a dark and dangerous path quicker than they think. It's so dangerous that it has to be nipped in the bud by the harshest method available so it won't affect the entire congregation. "A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads." (Leviticus 20:27) 

The Israelites have recently departed from Egypt, a land filled with idolatry. They are about to enter a land filled not only with idolatry but with all manner of sexual immorality. They are to stand out in the crowd by not going along with the crowd. If they mingle and blend in with the pagan tribes, they will forsake the Lord and take up idolatrous and immoral practices. This is why the Lord tells them time and again, "Be holy. Be holy. Be holy." That's what He's telling you and me today in a world gone mad, in a culture where pretty much anything imaginable is available in some form at any time of the day or night: "Be holy. Be holy. Be holy."

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Leviticus. Day 68, Penalties For Violating God's Laws, Part Three

As we continue on in Leviticus 20 today we'll take a look at the penalties for the various sexual relations that were forbidden in Chapter 18. In Chapter 18 the Lord said, "Do not do it," and in Chapter 20 He tells the people how to deal with it if someone does commit these violations of His law.

"If a man commits adultery with another man's wife---with the wife of his neighbor---both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death." (Leviticus 20:10) This was considered such a betrayal of a holy covenant, and such a crime against family life and against society, that it was a capital crime punishable by death by stoning---if two or more people caught the man and the woman in the act. Deuteronomy 17:6 states that there must be at least two or three witnesses to a capital crime, so that there can be absolutely no doubt of guilt. "On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness." It's probably safe to assume that not very many people in ancient Israel were stoned to death for committing adultery since this is an act is that is usually carried out in secret. The sinning couple would have to be caught by family members coming home unexpectedly and finding them in the act or they would have to be caught by persons encountering them in the act in some secluded outdoor place. People tend to go to great lengths to hide adulterous relationships. I'm fifty years old and can think of only one person I know who actually caught their spouse in the literal act of committing adultery, and even had these people lived in ancient Israel, the innocent spouse could not have had the guilty parties put to death because she was the lone witness to their sin. 

In John 8 we find the Pharisees and the teachers of the law bringing a woman by force to Jesus and accusing her of adultery. They state she was caught "in the act" and they remind Him that adulterers caught in the act are to be stoned to death. They ask Him what He thinks should be done. They want to trap Him in a wrong answer. If He says the woman ought to be stoned to death, He'll be contradicting the law of Moses because both parties to the act of adultery were to be executed. These people haven't brought the man for judgment, only the woman. If He agrees she merits the death penalty then His enemies can say, "Aha, we knew You weren't a righteous man! The Lord told the people through Moses that both parties to the crime are to be put do death. You are violating the law by saying it's okay to only put the woman to death." In addition, Jesus would be breaking the law of Rome because Israel is under Roman rule during the lifetime of Jesus Christ and the Romans had taken away most of the rights of the Jews to punish religious infractions among their people. Jesus' enemies could have reported Him to the authorities if He allowed the woman to be put to death. Then He'd have been arrested and imprisoned, though not necessarily executed, and if executed not necessarily by crucifixion. The main objective of Jesus' enemies during this scene was either to discredit Him to the people by causing Him to contradict the law of Moses or to have Him taken out of the public eye by having Him thrown into a Roman dungeon. 

Jesus masterfully took charge of the situation by saying, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." (John 8:7) He didn't engage in an argument with them. He didn't deny that the woman was guilty; He is God and He knew she was. He didn't accuse them of breaking the law by bringing only one guilty party to be judged. He simply turned their thoughts inward. Stricken by their consciences, "Those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there." (John 8:9) She's left alone with the only person present with the authority to condemn her to death, for as God the Lord Jesus Christ has no need of human witnesses to testify before Him; He knows she committed the act. He also knows she's sorry for committing the act. This moment is a turning point in her life and instead of condemning her the Lord says, "Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:11b) This is exactly what she wants to hear: that she is forgiven for her life of sin. This is exactly what she wants to do: leave her life of sin and live for the Lord. Jesus handled this situation perfectly in a way that benefited everyone involved. The crowd went home and thought about their own sins, and no doubt many of them got down on their knees and got things right with the Lord. The woman left her old life of sin behind and became a new person with a new reason for living. 

The remainder of our text today contains other sexual prohibitions that were listed in Leviticus 18 and we see that the death penalty was to be imposed upon those who were caught in the act (remember, by two or more witnesses) of violating these prohibitions.

"If a man has sexual relations with his father's wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads." (Leviticus 20:11) Presumably this is speaking of a man sleeping with his step-mother and not his own mother, though incestuous relationships may have existed between some men and their mothers in the land of Canaan where Israel is going.

"If a man has sexual relations with his daughter-in-law, both of them are to be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads." (Leviticus 20:12) We have to keep in mind that in cases where both parties are judged guilty, both parties are legal adults and the relationship was consensual. The Lord is not talking about cases where a man has his way with a woman against her will. 

"If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads." (Leviticus 20:13) Again we must keep in mind that this is speaking of two grown men entering into a consensual relationship with each other. Another thing to keep in mind is that they are not being treated more harshly than heterosexual people who are engaging in sex outside of marriage. In the Bible we do not find God's blessing being pronounced on any type of sexual union outside of marriage and we don't find Him considering marriage religiously valid unless it is between a male and a female. During the history of the nation of Israel, the Israelites lived near, among, and sometimes under the rule of nations where other types of marriage were legal: marriage between two men or two women, marriage between an adult and a child, incestuous marriage, and so on and so on. These marriages were valid according to the law of the land but not valid according to the law of the Lord. 

Remember, in the chapters we've been studying lately, the Lord keeps urging the Israelites to be different. Yes, the tribes of Canaan engage in pretty much every sexual practice the human mind can think of, but the Israelites aren't to follow their example. They are to follow the laws the Lord is providing to them. He's saying something like, "So what if the Canaanites do these things? Does that mean you have to do them too? If all the Canaanites jumped off a cliff would you join them? You are to follow Me, not the culture. You are to be different. You are to stand out in the crowd. You are to swim against the stream. Then, when unbelievers start to notice you're different, they'll start to wonder why you're different, and then some of them will approach you to ask you about your God. Your 'differentness' can actually lead souls to Me for salvation."

"If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you." (Leviticus 20:14) At first glance the Lord appears to be ordering these people to be burned alive instead of stoned to death, but some Bible scholars disagree and think that branding these people with a hot iron is what's being described here. These scholars propose that those who violate this law were marked as sinners with a brand for everyone else to see. On the one hand, I'd prefer to think that's the case since the idea of dying by fire is so horrifying, but on the other hand our entire passage today deals with sexual crimes that are punishable by death. You would think if the death penalty is not what's intended by verse 14, then this particular sexual violation would be mentioned somewhere else in the Scriptures and not smack dab in the middle of a passage dealing with putting people to death. 

It's difficult to come to a conclusion, but since a crime that carries the death penalty must be witnessed by two or more people, the sin the people have committed in verse 14 satisfies that rule since the man and his two wives are living openly as a group of married people in spite of the Lord's command for a man not to marry a mother and a daughter. Perhaps the brazen shamelessness of their crime is what causes a harsher form of execution to be called for. Perhaps---and this is what I suspect is happening---the relationship spoken of in Leviticus 14 is one in which all three parties to the marriage engage in sexual activity together. This form of plural marriage is not the same as when a man has two or more wives and spends time with each wife separately. (We could use the patriarch Jacob as an example for this; he had four wives and apparently four separate households. He spent time with only one wife at a time.) So not only has the man of Leviticus 14 married a woman and her mother, which is weird enough, but I personally believe the three of them are participating in sexual acts that require all three of them to be involved at the same time. We can see why this is considered a perversion in the law of the Lord and that might help to explain why their method of execution is harsher than the method of execution for the various other sexual violations mentioned in Leviticus 20.

Tomorrow we will conclude this portion of Leviticus and then on Friday we will move on into the regulations for how the priests of Israel are to live their lives.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Leviticus. Day 67, Penalties For Violating God's Laws, Part Two

We continue on in Chapter 20 with the list of penalties that are to be imposed when an Israelite breaks any of the laws the Lord has already provided to them in Leviticus. Yesterday we learned the death penalty is to be imposed if someone sacrifices a child to Molek, that detestable false god of the tribes of Canaan. Today we're going to look at the penalties for taking up certain other occult practices.

The Lord says, "I will set My face against anyone who turns to spiritists and mediums to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people." (Leviticus 20:6) The Lord issued a prohibition against such behavior in Leviticus 19:31: "Do not turn to mediums and spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God." If a person disobeys Leviticus 19:31, the Lord says He will turn His face against them---He will not bless them while they are living in this manner. He will also "cut them off" (excommunicate them) from the congregation of Israel. It sounds as if the excommunication is something the Lord accomplishes on His own but He doesn't describe how He intends to separate the offender from the body of believers. It could be that He means He expects the people to expel a practicer of the occult from their midst unless or until the person repents, but the text does not specifically describe how the person's excommunication comes about. I feel it's clear why the Lord wants them excommunicated, because their behavior will begin to affect others if they are allowed to continue mingling closely with believers. Pagan rituals would begin to be blended with the worship of the Lord or some people would forsake the Lord entirely and give in to the lure of the sin and depravity of pagan worship. 

The Lord says a person who engages in occult practices is prostituting themselves. They are being unfaithful to their God. They've gone out prowling for some other way to get their spiritual needs met, like someone going outside of their marital relationship to get their sexual needs met. A number of times in the Old Testament we'll find the Lord referring to Israel's idolatry as prostitution and as adultery because when any citizen of Israel is unfaithful to the Lord, he or she is breaking the vows of their covenant relationship with the Lord, and the Lord compares this to a person breaking his or her covenant vows of marriage.

Next the Lord reminds the people that they are to be different from the heathen cultures around them. They are the Lord's people and their mode of living should reflect this. "Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep My decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy." (Leviticus 20:7-8) You and I, as believers, should be living in such a way that our relationship with the Lord is reflected in our actions and attitudes. If we claim to be a Christian but no one around us can see any evidence of this in our lives, they'll either conclude we're a fraud or that there is no power and victory in living for Christ. If we look and talk and behave like unbelievers, what is there about us that would make an unbeliever ask us about Christ? What is there about us that would draw anyone to Christ? When anyone observes us going about our lives, they should see the fruits of the Holy Spirit displayed in us, which are: "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control". (Galatians 5:22-23a) 

"Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. Because they have cursed their father or mother, their blood will be on their own head." (Leviticus 20:9) The Lord has already said several times in the Bible that a person is to respect his mother and father. It's even one of the ten commandments. But the form of cursing involved in verse 9 is probably not just the use of foul language toward one's parents, according to many Bible scholars, but likely refers to speaking the words of a spell or hex over their parents. Verbally cursing one's parents with bad words is something the people of God should never do, but I think verse 9 has to do with the Israelite's future move into Canaan where people practice all sorts of witchcraft, including the use of elaborate spells that call upon the forces of darkness to avenge them upon someone they feel has wronged them. This type of curse might involve words intended to condemn the other person's soul to outer darkness or that bring illness or death upon the person. If an adult Israelite should take up occult magic and speak an ugly spell like this over one or both of his parents, the Lord says that person is to be put to death. That person feels a deadly hatred toward his parent. He would love to see his parent dead or in hell. In that sense he is breaking the commandment that says, "You shall not kill," for the Lord Jesus said that murder begins in the heart with hatred and that anyone who hates another person is a murderer in his heart and is in danger of being judged by God. (Matthew 5:21-22a) 

We've talked about the fruits produced by a person who lives for the Lord, but what fruits does a person produce when they live for themselves (for the flesh, for sin)? Their fruits are those ugly things we find the Lord prohibiting in the book of Leviticus, things such as "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like." (Galatians 5:19-21a) In tomorrow's study we'll continue moving through Chapter 20 and studying more of the penalties imposed for committing acts such as those that are mentioned in Galatians 5.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Leviticus. Day 66, Penalties For Violating God's Laws, Part One

Chapter 20 contains a list of penalties that are to be imposed for violating the laws the Lord has already instituted in the book of Leviticus.

The verses we'll study today have to do with a reprehensible Canaanite religious practice in which children were sacrificed to a pagan deity known as Molek. "The Lord said to Moses, 'Say to the Israelites: 'Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. I Myself will set My face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled My sanctuary and profaned My holy name." (Leviticus 20:1-3)

You will sometimes see this god's name rendered as Molech, Moloch, Mollok, Milcom, or Malcam in various ancient texts. The origin of Molek worship begins so far back in time that very little is known about him but he appears to have been credited with providing success and monetary prosperity to families, hence the offering of their firstborn to him in order to secure a financially comfortable living in the future for the couple and the children that come later. If a family felt the offering of their firstborn didn't provide them with the prosperity they sought, more children might be offered. (Manasseh, one of the kings of the line of Judah, sacrificed two of his sons to Molek in the Bible.) 

The root word of his name "mlk" appears to be the same from which is derived the Hebrew "melek" which means "king". If this is the case then Molek may not have been his proper name but a title. Some scholars think the worship of Molek was a form of Baal worship and that the Canaanites originally referred to him as "Baal, our king" and that they gradually began to worship him in his form as receiver of child sacrifices simply as "King". A further indication that Molek and Baal may have been one and the same is that the goddess Asherah (also known as Ashtoreth or Astarte) is credited with being the consort of Baal but also is mentioned as being the consort of Molek. We wouldn't expect two gods to share a mate, so it's possible that Molek worship was a facet of Baal worship.

The Lord says that anyone who offers a child in sacrifice to Molek has "defiled My sanctuary and profaned My holy name". If any of the Israelites engaged in this abominable practice, they were profaning the name of God because they were living in a way that made them look just like the heathen tribes of Canaan. This created the erroneous impression that the God of Israel was on board with child sacrifices and even approved of them, but as the Lord will say later in the book of Jeremiah when some of the people do take up this practice, "I never commanded---nor did it enter My mind---that they should do such a detestable thing." (Jeremiah 32:35) Harming a child is the ultimate depravity. A person has sunk as low as he can sink, spiritually and morally, when instead of protecting his child with his own life he instead offers up the life of his child to gain something for himself. The Lord doesn't want His name associated in any way with a wickedness so vile that it should never even enter the thoughts of man, much less be carried out. If the Lord's name begins to be associated with evil, who of an upright heart will ever seek Him? If He appears to be no better and no different than any of the pagan deities of the heathen cultures of the world, a person could conclude that it's no use to turn to Him and worship Him and follow His laws. A person who longs for something holy and admirable and good would never turn to the Lord because he'd have the impression that the Lord is just like all the rest. The Lord must defend His honor when a person profanes His name in this manner, and defending His honor means putting to death the one who committed such a crime against humanity. 

The penalty for sacrificing a child to Molek is to be death by stoning. If the community doesn't carry out the death penalty on the offender, the Lord will turn against the man and his family, along with anyone else who approves of or turns a blind eye to such a heinous crime. "If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, I Myself will set My face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek." (Leviticus 20:4-5)

If the community doesn't enforce the death penalty against a man who commits such a sin, the Lord will see to it that no financial prosperity comes to any man of Israel who offers his child in sacrifice. The Lord will cut off from this man and his family the pipeline of covenant blessings promised to the tribes of Israel. He will also cut off the flow of blessings from anyone who witnessed or has proof the man did such a thing but who failed to take action and obey the Lord's command to put such a person to death. A repulsive sin such as this should never take place, but if it does it has to be dealt with swiftly and harshly. It is to be considered a capital crime and I believe it is to be considered the worst crime a person can commit, since the Lord places it first in the list of crimes and punishments provided in Chapter 20. A society that fails to protect its most vulnerable citizens is a society that has fallen as low as it can go. And a society that willingly gives up its most vulnerable citizens is a society that has fallen into such astonishing depravity that we can't even stand to think about it. Nor can the Lord, who lamented in deep sorrow that His people had fallen into a practice that should never even enter the mind, much less be carried out by the hands.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Leviticus. Day 65, Various Legal, Moral, And Religious Laws, Part Five

We'll be concluding our study of Chapter 19 today.

Yesterday's passage mostly had to do with not taking up any of the religious customs of the promised land when the Israelites arrive there. I think the first verse we'll study today is closely connected to the verses we studied yesterday because it is believed verse 29 has to do with some of the things that take place at pagan temples. "Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness." (Leviticus 19:29)

The people already know that it's cruel and immoral to send their daughters out to earn money as prostitutes and I don't think that's the type of prostitution the Lord is talking about. Based on my background study, I believe He is warning them against being drawn into the skewed thinking of the pagan tribes of Canaan who consider it an honor for their daughters to serve at pagan temples as priestesses whose duties included what was known as "sacred prostitution". This type of prostitution is not the type we're familiar with in modern culture but was a custom in which a man could bring money to a pagan temple in order to have relations with one of these priestesses as a fertility rite. A man might visit the temple to sleep with a priestess believing this will cure his infertility. Or he might think it will help him to produce a male child when so far all his children are female. In other cases it is believed that no money actually exchanged hands but that, since these priestesses represented various female gods, a man who had relations with them was being symbolically joined with the goddess herself. This was thought of as a "divine marriage" and the man believed he was honoring the goddess by worshiping her with his body. In return he believed she would honor him by blessing him with health and wealth and many offspring to carry on his family line.

The Lord now repeats a commandment He has brought up several times before and will bring up many more times on the pages of the Bible. "Observe My Sabbaths and have reverence for My sanctuary. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:30) Everything the Lord says is important and should be taken to heart, but when He is careful to repeat a commandment over and over, we know it is ultra important. If the people don't observe the Sabbath, and if they don't attend religious services at the sanctuary, and if they don't regard God as the Lord of their lives, they are going to fall into the idolatry of the land He's about to give them. They must stay closely connected to the Lord and to the religious rites of their own culture in order to avoid the many temptations they will be confronted with as they move into a land that's polluted with idols and pagan temples. This is advice we need to take to heart in our own times. We must stay in constant contact with our God and be sure to always keep Him in His proper position as the Lord of our lives, and we must not forsake the assembling of ourselves together in God's house. (Hebrews 10:25) 

I know right now with the pandemic we may not be able to meet together with other believers in person, but we can join with them in watching religious services online. Thousands of churches across our nation are streaming their services online and we can still get a sense of worshiping with fellow Christians even while watching services on our phones or computers or smart TV sets. My husband and I stream our church's service on my phone and send it to our TV so we can watch it on the big screen and we have remarked to each other several times that we almost feel like we're right there in the sanctuary. By watching the service with the Facebook app we can post comments and read the comments of others who are watching along with us and it gives us a sense of being together even though we're not all together in the same room. It's encouraging to see all those familiar names popping up as they make their comments or prayer requests. 

The Lord already told the people in yesterday's passage not to engage in any form of divination. This next verse is similar. "Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:31) People aren't to engage in any sort of divination on their own and they aren't to seek out someone who claims to have a gift for predicting the future or for contacting the dead. These are all occult practices and are considered an abomination by God because they "defile" man. Any contact we have with the occult is going to change us in some unpleasant way, and believing we're just having our palm read for fun or believing we're just reading our daily horoscope for entertainment is one way we can get pulled into things that have a very dark undercurrent. 

I know a Christian who read a book about astrology and who suddenly began basing all their relationships and all their decisions upon what sign someone was born under or upon what their astrological chart said. This occult practice gained such a strong hold on that person's life that the next thing I knew they were engaging in all sorts of shockingly immoral things. This person lost almost everything good in their life due to falling prey to a darkness that disguised itself as harmless fun at first. If I hadn't seen with my own eyes how drastically a person can be changed by dabbling in astrology I wouldn't have believed it, but I saw their life fall apart right before my eyes, and when I tried to counsel this person I honestly believed there for a minute I was about to be physically attacked. I don't think I've ever seen so much rage and hatred in a person's eyes and there's no doubt in my mind that it's because, even though this person was a believer in the Lord, they had been defiled and deluded by their foray into a practice the Lord condemns on the pages of the Bible. Thankfully, this person responded after a while to the Lord's urging to repent and is safely back in the fold and no longer involved in any way with the thing that nearly ruined their life.

Next the Lord makes a prohibition against ageism; their elders are not to be disregarded as old fashioned or out of date. They are to be respected and honored. "Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:32) I have heard people say they began to feel invisible as they grew older and that people have treated them as if they are no longer relevant to society and as if their opinions and advice aren't to be considered. Verse 32 plainly shows us that harboring such an attitude toward our elders is a sin. By respecting our elders we are revering our God, as He says, so if we're not respecting our elders we're not revering our God. After all, one of the names of God is "Ancient Of Days". (Isaiah 43:13, Daniel 7:9,13,22) If we begin to consider our elders as outdated and irrelevant, we'll begin to consider the Ancient of Days as outdated and irrelevant.

The Lord prohibits racism and discrimination. "When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:33-34) Why did the Israelites end up as slaves in Egypt? Because a king---or possibly an entire dynasty---was afraid of them because they were different. Instead of loving the Israelites as themselves, the Egyptians began to hate them because they were of a different race and a different religion. They began to oppress them out of the fear that they would rise up and take over, a thing that the Israelites had no intention of doing; they just wanted to live peacefully in the land and go about their business. So here in verses 33 and 34 we find the Lord reminding the Israelites of what can happen when a class of people is treated as a threat and He warns them not to treat foreigners living peacefully among them as a threat or as people to be discriminated against. 

Lastly, in our study today the Lord reminds the people not to cheat each other in trade. "Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt." (Leviticus 19:35-36) An ephah is believed to have represented about 3/5 of a bushel and a hin is thought to have been about a gallon. 

"Keep all My decrees and all My laws and follow them. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:37) He says, "Take these words to heart and obey them." Why? "Because I am the Lord." There is no higher authority. His laws are greater than the laws of any land they will ever possess. In every situation that confronts them in the future, they are to consult what He says, not what the culture says. No matter what people are doing all around them, they are to follow the laws of the Lord even when the culture says, "It's okay, everybody is doing this stuff, you can do it too." If the ways of the culture clash with the laws of the Lord, they are to stick with the laws of the Lord and, "Be holy (different) because I, the Lord your God, am holy (different)." (Leviticus 19:2)

Let's dare to be different. Let's honor our God by being like Him and not like the unbelieving culture around us. 


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Leviticus. Day 64, Various Legal, Moral, And Religious Laws, Part Four

Our passage today begins with a law the Lord has already spoken of at least twice before. "Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it." (Leviticus 19:26a) We did a fairly detailed discussion of this law on Day 53 and Day 54, in case you missed it and would like to take a look at it. We won't go back into all those details again in today's study since we have so much material to cover.

"Do not practice divination or seek omens." (Leviticus 19:26b) The Israelites are coming from several centuries in Egypt divination was practiced. They are going to the promised land where the tribes of Canaan practice divination. The Lord's people are never to engage in such activities and this is good advice for every era because there is nothing to be gained and a lot to lose by dabbling in the occult, even when we think we're only doing it for entertainment purposes. God's people should not be visiting palm readers, crystal ball readers, tarot card readers, tea leaf readers, or anything of the sort. God's people should not be consulting horoscopes or having their astrological charts done or using Ouija boards. Our lives are to be guided by the word of God and by the Holy Spirit within us. If we need to know anything about what's coming up in the future, our God is more than able to warn us of approaching danger or to prepare us for a great blessing. I can think of a number of times when God warned me to avoid a certain situation or a certain person, and it always became clear later on why He gave this warning. Other times He's told me ahead of time that something I've been praying for is about to happen soon. But we are to have nothing to do with any form of fortune telling. In most cases we're just wasting our money and receiving useless information in return; the fortune teller is putting on a show and giving us whatever message he or she thinks we want to hear. In some cases there are people who actually do possess a talent for divination, but as Acts 16 proves to us, this talent is supplied by the powers of darkness. It does not come from God. It comes from demonic forces. (We are not to confuse fortune tellers with prophets of the Old Testament; prophets sought the Lord for guidance. They didn't use occult practices to obtain answers.)

Seeking omens is also forbidden to the people of God. In modern times we would refer to this as looking for a sign. Anyone who knows me knows this is what I always say about signs: "When you're looking for a sign, everything looks like a sign." There are occasions in the Bible when the Lord tells people to be looking for a sign, but in those cases He tells them exactly what the sign is going to be that He intends to send to them. For example, the Lord told the people through the prophet Micah that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Where was the Lord Jesus Christ born? In Bethlehem, though this was not His hometown, but due to the Roman emperor calling for a census for the purpose of taxation, Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem to be counted in the census even though she was due to give birth at any moment. Another example of the Lord providing a sign is what He said to the people through the prophet Isaiah, which is that the sign that the one who will be known as "God With Us" had arrived was that He would be born of a virgin. Jesus' mother Mary became pregnant while she was still a virginal, unmarried young woman. Anyone who claimed to be the Messiah but who was not born in Bethlehem and who was not born of a virgin was to be discounted as a candidate, which is why the Lord provided these signs and so many others regarding the identity of the Messiah. 

Now we must contrast the types of signs the Lord gives with the types of signs people like to choose for themselves. For example, someone very close to me who is a devout Christian will comb the yard looking for two or more four-leaf clovers when seeking a "yes" answer from the Lord. I was surprised to hear that. That is not the way the Lord intends us to seek His will. He intends us to spend time in His word and in prayer. He intends us to lean upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit who will make us feel uneasy about things that are wrong for us and who will make us feel at peace about things that are right for us. If we seek answers outside of these methods, we are probably just going to end up doing what we feel like doing. We are going to be led by our own desires instead of by the Lord's will. We are going to interpret seeing a rainbow as a sign the Lord is saying yes to something, or we'll interpret seeing a cloud pass over the moon as a sign the Lord is saying yes to something, or we'll decide that having a butterfly light on us as a sign the Lord is saying yes to something. You see where I'm going with this? When we look for a sign, everything looks like a sign. Unless the Lord Himself gives us a specific sign to look for, we must not go around seeking signs. We must not make up our own criteria of what constitutes a sign. 

The Israelites are not to do what the people of Canaan do and they are not to look as the people of Canaan look. "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:27-28) These two verses are closely connected with verse 26 because they have to do with occult practices. Cut hair was used by some ancient cultures for fortune telling. I am not sure exactly how they went about it, but I assume it involved interpreting whatever pattern formed when cut hair was cast on the ground, much like a person might read tea leaves or might read the pattern formed after "rolling the bones" (casting chicken bones, for example, out of a pouch onto the ground or onto a table). 

Pagan people sometimes expressed their grief by cutting themselves deeply enough to leave scars as a memorial for the person who died. Or they might cut themselves and rub dye into the wounds to form a tattoo commemorating the person who died. The Lord commands the Israelites not to adopt such practices. Believers are not to "grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope". (1 Thessalonians 4:13) The pagan peoples mutilated themselves because they didn't think they would see their loved ones again or because they didn't think they would see their loved ones again in a recognizable form they could interact with as they did on earth. But God's people know that we have a glorious eternity ahead of us in which we will be reunited with our believing loved ones who have gone on before. God's people know we will recognize our loved ones and they will recognize us. We will still be able to walk and talk with them just as we did in this life, only we'll be doing it in immortal bodies like Christ's, and we'll never be separated from our loved ones again. If the Israelites were to cut and tattoo their bodies in grief for the dead, it would be making the statement that they never expect to see them again. It would be as if they don't believe in an eternal soul or a future in which they will be in the presence of God and reunited with their loved ones. The Israelites are never to give the impression that they share the pagan beliefs of the idolaters around them.

So is it a sin to get a tattoo? Also, is it a sin to get a tattoo in memory of a loved one who has died? We see those quite frequently these days, don't we? I think we have to take verse 28 in the context of the time period and the culture for which it was written. During the era in which Leviticus was written, tattooing was a pagan practice. To tattoo oneself in that era was to look just like an idolater. God didn't want His people being confused for idolaters. He also didn't want His people drawn into this practice because as soon as they adopt one pagan practice they are going to fall into the temptation to adopt other pagan practices. In our day tattoos are common in many cultures and have become very mainstream in our own culture. If we see a person with a tattoo we can't conclude that person is an unbeliever, but in the days when Leviticus was written, a tattoo on a person absolutely meant they were not a believer in God. It meant they worshiped false gods, but not the one true God. But the connection is no longer there in our day between tattoos and idolatry, at least not in the mainstream culture of the United States, and I've actually seen many tattoos that are Bible verses. It's my personal opinion that you are not breaking the law contained in verse 28 if you go out and get a tattoo, not unless your tattoo is of something ungodly. I don't have any myself but I don't believe you're sinning if you have a tattoo that isn't an image of something sinful or that doesn't contain words that are sinful. 

Join us tomorrow as we conclude Chapter 19.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Leviticus. Day 63, Various Legal, Moral, And Religious Laws, Part Three

The Lord is preparing the Israelites to form their own government and society in the promised land. He's providing them with legal regulations, with instructions for how to treat their fellow man, and with instructions for how to relate to Him. They are to live as God tells them to live, not as the heathen nations around them live.

To further imprint the idea of "differentness" or "separateness" upon their minds, the Lord provides this next group of instructions to illustrate His point that the people are not to mix pagan religious customs with their worship of the Lord and that they are not to intermarry with idolaters. "Keep My decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two different kinds of material." (Leviticus 19:19) The New Testament contains a similar warning about not entering into close partnerships with those who don't serve our God. "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14) A believer should not marry an unbeliever. A believer should not form a business partnership with an unbeliever. The Lord isn't saying we can't have friends who are unbelievers or that we can't work in a place where some of our co-workers aren't Christians. He's saying we can't be part of an intimate personal or business relationship with someone who doesn't share our faith. That's why He uses the term "yoked" to present us with the visual of two animals hooked together in a yoke to pull a plow or a cart or a wagon. They have to be able to pull together and work as a team. That means they must be of equal size and strength. You don't put a puny little anemic ox in a yoke with a large and muscular and robust ox. That's a recipe for disaster. In the same way, you can't form a successful partnership in marriage or in business if one of you serves the Lord (is the strong ox) and the other doesn't (is the weak ox). 

Verses 20 through 22 involve a form of infidelity. "If a man sleeps with a female slave who is promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment. Yet they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed. The man, however, must bring a ram to the entrance to the tent of meeting for a guilt offering to the Lord. With the ram of the guilt offering the priest is to make atonement for him before the Lord for the sin he has committed, and his sin will be forgiven." (Leviticus 19:20) Earlier in our study of the Old Testament we looked at the various types of slavery in ancient times and talked about how a person might end up in the position of a slave. One way a young woman might end up a slave is if her family was not able to provide for her or if her parents owed a debt they couldn't pay. The young woman might be taken into the household of a well-to-do man as a slave to perform household services in exchange for her room and board because her parents were too poor to keep taking care of her. Or the woman might be taken into the household of her parents' creditor to work off the debt. In many of these cases, the young woman might be betrothed by her master to one of his sons. When both she and the son to whom she was promised became of marriageable age, the wedding ceremony would take place and she would be given the status of a free woman. 

Engagement in ancient times was a legal contract, almost as binding as marriage, and to be unfaithful to one's betrothed during the engagement period was treated as harshly as adultery. What we see happening in verses 20 through 22 is the young slave woman and a man other than her fiancĂ© engaging in consensual intercourse. But because the woman is not yet a free woman, she isn't considered as guilty as the free man she's slept with. Because of her position in society, she is used to doing what she is told and feels less freedom to say "no" when this man says and does things to entice her into an illicit relationship with him. We don't know what the "due punishment" of verse 20 is, but it is not the death penalty which could be legally imposed in the Old Testament when married people were caught committing adultery. The man is the only one who must bring a guilt offering to the Lord, and that's how we know he is held more accountable than the slave woman. 

The man who has had intercourse with a woman promised to someone else is a cheater and a thief. He should have regarded that woman as unapproachable, but instead he is guilty of alienating her affections from her fiancĂ©. He has committed a trespass against both the woman (because although the text indicates she was a willing sexual partner, she was not a free woman used to making decisions for herself) and against the woman's betrothed. The Lord is teaching the Israelites, and us, to respect the relationships of others. I saw a meme posted on Facebook yesterday and agree with it wholeheartedly and feel it applies to this portion of our study today. It said, "Your soul mate is not someone else's spouse." In the case of today's study, the man's soul mate was not the woman who was legally bound to another man in a contract of engagement. He had no right to approach her the way he did. The woman bears some guilt because she could have appealed to her master or to her betrothed to defend her honor. As a slave and as an engaged woman, she was under the protection of the head of the household, but perhaps in her heart she wondered whether this man with his smooth words was a better mate for her than the man to whom she was legally engaged. As the saying goes, sometimes the reason the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence is because it's on top of the septic tank. It might look good on the surface, but underneath it's a deep and filthy trap. 

Now the Lord gives some agricultural advice. "When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:23-25) The people will increase the fertility of these trees by leaving the fruit alone for several years. During the first three years they are not to touch the fruit. During the fourth year they are to give thanks to the Lord for the fruit and make offerings to Him for it. But only when the fifth year comes do they eat it.

I think this advice is meant to be practical and taken at face value but also I think it's meant to be of spiritual aid to the people. Waiting until the fifth year to eat the fruit teaches them patience. Living in these carnal human bodies, we all have a tendency to become impatient. When we ask the Lord to bless us or to change a situation, we want Him to do it right now, don't we? When He doesn't do it right now we often find we haven't developed much patience in our spiritual life. If the delay causes us to lose heart that God will ever come through or if it causes us to doubt God's love and His good intentions toward us, then we know we need to work on our patience skills. God will do what needs to be done in the right way and at the right time---and not a moment sooner. He will take action at the precise moment when it will bring Him the most glory and when it will strengthen our faith the most. Just like a farmer who knows better than to harvest his fields in the wrong month, the Lord doesn't bring the harvest of blessing or the harvest of change into our lives at the wrong time. Over and over and over the Bible encourages us to "wait upon the Lord" and the Bible assures us that "at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up". (Galatians 6:9)

I don't know how long you've waited for something to change. I don't know what kind of blessing or miracle you're asking the Lord for. But don't give up. Wait upon the Lord. Like the man waiting for the fifth year to harvest the fruit from a tree, we must wait for the right timing of the Lord. There have been big prayer requests the Lord has answered for me on the very day I made them and there have been big prayer requests I had to wait years to see answered. I have unbelieving relatives and friends for whom I've been praying for decades. I'm still waiting to see them come to the Lord. We must not give up, no matter how long we've been praying for a certain situation or for a certain person. The Lord wants us to develop patience and strength. He doesn't want us to be weak and fragile in our faith. The harvest could be just around the corner and He wants us to have the stamina to reap the harvest and enjoy it when it comes!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Leviticus. Day 62, Various Legal, Moral, And Religious Laws, Part Two

The Lord is providing laws to live by so that when the Israelites reach the promised land, they will not live as the tribes of Canaan live. In yesterday's passage He commanded them, "Be holy (different) because I am holy (different)." Pagan people believed their gods had the same personalities as human beings, only with a lot more power. Their gods were credited with the same ugly emotions and bad motives as human beings. But God---the one and only God---is different. He is holy and righteous and perfect. As the people of the living God, the Israelites are to look and talk and behave like the people of the living God, not like the pagan people who surround them.

We begin today with a verse that prohibits theft. "Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight." (Leviticus 19:13) The eighth commandment says, "You shall not steal." Stealing can take various forms. We all recognize shoplifting as stealing, or picking pockets as stealing, or taking something out of someone's house as stealing. But defrauding a person and costing him money is stealing too. So is holding onto the wages of someone who has earned them. In those days (and in some areas of the country today) men looking to be hired as day laborers might gather at the side of a busy street in town and a man needing laborers might select one or more of them to go to his property that day to complete some work. When the day is done and the worker has completed his task, it's not okay for the property owner to say, "I'll catch up with you tomorrow or later in the week to pay you." The laborer fulfilled his end of the bargain and deserves the pay he was promised for that day's work.

The Lord is concerned with how the handicapped are treated. "Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:14) He says, "Do not mock people with disabilities or make life any harder for them than it already is. If you do, you'll have to answer to Me. I am their defender."

"Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly." (Leviticus 19:15) People have a tendency to root for the underdog (in this case, "the poor") or for the person of wealth and influence (in this case "the great"). Both attitudes are wrong. Cases are not to be judged on emotions but on the evidence. A judge is not to side with the poor person simply because he feels sorry for him. A judge is not to side with the wealthy person in hopes of gaining something from him in return. 

These next verses have to do with loving others and treating them as we would want to be treated. "Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the Lord. Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:16-18) Slander is a dreadful thing. Many a person's personal or professional life has been harmed by false rumors. Sometimes in the news we hear of cases where children and teens take their own lives due to being bullied by slander. I wouldn't be surprised if that's why the Lord follows the prohibition against slander with the prohibition about endangering our neighbor's life. There are other ways, of course, that we could cause danger to our neighbor's life than by slandering him, but believing that words have no power to harm is an erroneous belief. As my pastor said just the other day, whoever made up this little saying was wrong: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." 

The Lord follows the prohibition against endangering others with a strict command not to harbor hate in our hearts. If we allow hate for someone to take root in our hearts, might we hesitate to step in and help if we see that person's life in danger? Or, supposing we are nowhere around when the person meets their demise, might we not care or even gloat if we see their obituary in the newspaper? Hatred leads us down a dark path, farther than we believed we would ever go. There's not as much distance between ugly thoughts and ugly actions as we think there is.

When the Lord speaks of rebuking our neighbor I don't think He means taking on a judgmental and condemnatory attitude and going over to their house in a huff to tell them everything that is wrong about them. In the original language, the word translated into English as "rebuke" means "to correct, to chasten, to convince, to reason together". I think what the Lord is saying to the Israelites is the same thing the Apostle Paul said to the Christian church: "Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you may also be tempted." (Galatians 6:6) The Lord is telling the people that they are to go to their neighbor in a spirit of love and concern and say, "I'm worried about you. I see the damage this thing is doing to you. How can I help you out of this situation? Can I talk to you about the Lord? Can I pray with you?" And in this loving spirit, the person who goes to reason with his neighbor must keep in mind that he himself is not perfect and has made mistakes. This will help him to remain humble when he speaks to his neighbor in an attitude of concern. 

Lastly, we'll conclude our study today by looking at the Lord's admonition not to bear a grudge or seek revenge. If a person has wronged us, it's not our place to take vengeance. It's our Father's place. He is responsible for us and He will avenge us upon our enemies. "It is Mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them." (Deuteronomy 32:35) Sometimes the Lord doesn't have to lift a finger against them; they dig themselves a deep hole with their wicked deeds and fall into it. They reap the natural consequences of their own actions. They may learn their lesson when they reap the consequences. At other times the Lord may deliberately bring a very difficult set of circumstances into the wrongdoer's life as correction or punishment. The Apostle Paul, when speaking to the Christian church (which was made up largely of Gentiles) reminded the people that they are to live by the same principle that the Lord gave the Jewish people regarding the subject of not taking revenge. "Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." (Romans 12:19)

When we have been wronged, we must leave room for God's wrath. If we step in and start taking revenge for ourselves, I can guarantee you we won't be handing out justice in the way God would. It won't have the same effect on the person as if God took them to task for their actions, for when God avenges us the wrongdoer's heart may change. We don't have the power to change hearts. When we take revenge, we're merely getting back at someone. When God takes revenge on our behalf, sometimes the wrongdoer repents instead of continuing to resist the Lord's will for their lives. 

Not only does taking revenge potentially rob the wrongdoer of the opportunity to see the error of his ways and repent of them, but it dirties our hands. God, the perfect Lawgiver and Judge, has the right to discipline people for breaking His laws, and He can do it without getting His hands dirty. He can hand down verdicts and impose sentences without losing any of His integrity, but you and I will always lower ourselves when we do things to get back at others. We end up looking a lot more like our enemy than like our God.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Leviticus. Day 61, Various Legal, Moral, And Religious Laws, Part One

Chapter 19 contains a number of laws that are provided for the good of the individual and the good of the community as a whole. Some of these laws are given to help the people develop and maintain a good relationship with the Lord. Other laws are given to help the people respect and care about each other. It will take us several days to look at everything included in this chapter.

"The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: 'Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.'" (Leviticus 19:1-2) The word translated into English as "holy" is the Hebrew "qadosh" which means "sanctified, set apart for a special purpose, separate, different". The Lord isn't saying to the Israelites, "Be perfect because I am perfect." He knows they can't be perfect while living in mortal human bodies in a fallen world. He's saying, "Be different because I am different. Don't be like the pagan tribes of the promised land. Don't be like the idolatrous citizens of Egypt. Don't be like any of the unbelieving tribes or nations anywhere in the world. You are My people and this should be reflected in the way you live." The laws given in Leviticus 19 are designed to help the Israelites achieve the goal of being different from the cultures of the world who do not serve the Lord as God.

As we move through this chapter we'll note that some of the laws are derived from the ten commandments. "Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe My Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:3-4) The first two of the ten commandments involve having no god but God and making no idols. The fourth commandment is an order to honor the Sabbath. The fifth commandment instructs people to respect their parents. 

"When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the Lord, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted. Whoever eats it will be held responsible because they have destroyed what is holy to the Lord; they must be cut off from their people." (Leviticus 19:5-8) We studied the regulations for the fellowship offering in Leviticus 7. In Leviticus 7:16-18 we learned that if a person brought a fellowship offering as the result of a vow or as a freewill offering, the meat could only be eaten on the first and second day. By the third day it was considered impure. The people had no refrigerators in which to preserve food. They had no springhouses in the desert to keep food cool. By the third day there would be too much bacteria, and possibly mold and even maggots, in certain types of quickly perishable items. It was an insult to the Lord to eat spoiled food in a fellowship meal (in which symbolically the Lord partakes along with the person). If the Lord came to our house in the flesh to sit down to dinner, would we serve Him meat that's three days old? No, not even in modern times when we can keep meat safely chilled for several days before it has to be discarded. We'd cook the finest, freshest food we have in the house for Him in order to honor our royal guest. When the people ate the meat on the third day it was like they served spoiled food to Him at the table. He says anyone who partakes in the offering on the third day is to be excommunicated because he has profaned the name of the Lord and has not regarded the Lord as holy.

"When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of the field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:9-10) The people aren't to be greedy. A person who makes sure to pick up every blade of wheat and every fallen grape can be compared to a person in modern times who pinches a penny until it squeals. Have you ever known anyone who is continually concerned with whether or not they pay a dime more than they think they should, or someone to whom it would almost literally cause pain if they had to donate money to any cause? The Lord is trying to prevent any of the citizens of Israel from turning into this kind of person. He wants them to care about their fellow man. The Lord has provided them with the harvest and with the fruit of the vine; if He had not given man everything he needs to make things grow, including rain, then man would have nothing. How dare man, then, begrudge the poor man and the weary traveler something to eat? Man didn't invent seeds and vines. Man didn't put the nutrients in the soil that are needed to make things grow. Man didn't invent rain and send it down from the skies. God did that. How then does man dare to behave as if he alone is responsible for his blessings? How does he dare to behave as if everything is his while allowing others to go hungry? A greedy spirit is an ungrateful spirit. A person who is grateful for their blessings is a person likely to share their blessings.

"Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another. Do not swear falsely by My name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:11-12) The eighth commandment orders people not to steal. What belongs to other people is not ours to take. The prohibition against being a liar and a deceiver is related to the ninth commandment, as is the prohibition against making false oaths. The ninth commandment says, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." But here in Leviticus the Lord takes the ninth commandment a step further to include all forms of false witnessing. A lie is a lie, whether it's told in court under oath or whether it's spoken in conversation, which is why the Lord says, "Do not deceive one another." 

It's difficult for us to ever trust a person again after we've caught them in a lie, isn't it? We can sometimes gloss over a lie that was told to spare our feelings, even though what's called a "white lie" is still a lie and still a sin. But the bigger the lie we've been told, the harder it is to repair our relationship with that person. Depending on the nature of the lie, and depending on what the lie was intended to cover up, we may never feel safe letting that person close to us again. The Lord is saying to the Israelites, "Don't be the kind of people that others can't trust. You are the people of God. Your word should be your bond. If you attest to the truth of something, it must actually be true. If you lie and deceive your fellow man then you're behaving just like the heathen peoples around you. No one will accept your testimony about Me if they can't trust the other things you say."

Join us tomorrow as the Lord instructs the people further about how to show love to their neighbors, to their employees, to the handicapped, and to the poor. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Leviticus. Day 60, Unlawful Sexual Relations, Part Six

It has taken us six days to cover all the material contained in Leviticus 18 but we will be finishing this section of the book today. We'll begin with the last prohibition in a long list of sexual relations the Lord says are unlawful. Then the Lord tells us what led to the downfall of the tribes of Canaan and how they became so corrupted that He plans to uproot them from the land.

"Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion." (Leviticus 18:23) You would think it wouldn't be necessary for the Lord to have to mention such a thing. You would think something like this would never even enter the thoughts or the hearts of human beings. Yet He has to talk about it because there are people who have done such things in the past, and people who are still doing such things, and people who will continue to do such things in the future.

To use a simple modern example to illustrate this point, have you ever noticed how strange some of the instructions are on bottles of over-the-counter medicines or on those printouts the pharmacy gives you with your prescription medicines? An eye ointment, for instance, will have a warning that says, "Do not take by mouth". Antibacterial and antifungal creams will say, "Do not put in eyes". Suppositories, for goodness sake, actually have to have a warning on them not to swallow them like pills. These warnings are included on these products because somebody somewhere actually used them in these bizarre ways. The Lord includes the warning against bestiality in verse 23 because somebody somewhere was using animals in this bizarre way. 

Part of these "somebodies" were the tribes of Canaan. "Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled." (Leviticus 18:24) The Lord is speaking not only of the sexual practices of verse 23 but all the sexual practices mentioned in Leviticus 18. The downfall of the people currently living in the promised land began when they started living by the motto "anything goes" when it comes to sexual relations. Their sin probably began in small ways but as time went on their hearts became more calloused and their minds continually sought new diversions. Nothing was taboo to them and, as a result, nothing was exciting to them anymore unless it was new and different and tested the bounds of social, moral, and religious decency. Eventually they fell so deep into a pit of sin that their souls didn't even recoil from the idea of child sacrifice but began offering their children in the fire to that abominable false god Molek.

The tribes of Canaan have polluted the land with sin and blood and now the Lord intends to pull these tribes up by the roots and plant the tribes of Israel in their place. "Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants." (Leviticus 18:25) The land has food poisoning, so to speak. Like a person who has food poisoning and whose stomach vomits out its contents, the land is going to vomit out its contents. 

But Israel is never to become prideful about her position in the promised land. She must follow all the Lord's laws and commandments. She must avoid the things He has prohibited. Her continual occupation of the promised land depends on behaving like the Lord's people and not like the people of the unbelieving world. "But you must keep My decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you." (Leviticus 18:26-28) 

The Israelites are to be on guard against falling into any of the practices listed in Chapter 18 and must take action whenever this type of behavior begins breaking out in the community. Anyone who has been drawn into these sins must be quarantined (by excommunication) from the general population just as someone with a very contagious deadly illness must be quarantined from the general population. If sin isn't recognized and dealt with early on, it grows and spreads just like a disease. The Lord wants to keep Israel as spiritually healthy as she can possibly be. "Everyone who does any of these detestable things---such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep My requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 18:29-30) 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Leviticus. Day 59, Unlawful Sexual Relations, Part Five

I thought we would be concluding Leviticus 18 today but just one verse from today's text is so controversial in modern times and there are so many emotions and religious and political beliefs tied to it that we are going to have to take our entire study time to look at it. First we are going to quote the verse itself, then discuss its cultural significance in regard to the promised land, then talk about the possible reasons why God makes this prohibition, then take a look at how it relates to our world today, and finally I'll close with some personal remarks. 

Our one verse today warns the Israelites not to take part in a particular type of relationship that is prevalent in the land of Canaan. "Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable." (Leviticus 18:22) Relationships like this weren't particularly accepted in Egypt, from whence Israel has lately been rescued, but they were extremely common in the promised land, where Israel is going. 

One manner in which the Israelites will witness this type of thing is in the religious culture of Canaan. The religious rites of a number of Canaanite cults involved the use of "shrine prostitutes" which were both men and women. The Canaanite fertility rites included having sexual relations with these shrine prostitutes and also engaging in orgies with other pagan worshipers during festivals. It didn't matter if the citizens of Canaan were married or not; during these fertility festivals it was acceptable for anyone to engage in any type of sexual relations outside of marriage. I wasn't able to find out in my background study whether gay marriage was legal in Canaan.

Later in Israel's history, when she is under the control of Greece and then Rome, things such as prostitution (male and female) were legal in the Greek and Roman cultures. Same sex relationships and/or marriages in those cultures were recognized in a similar way as that of opposite sex relationships and/or marriages. It was typical and even expected that soldiers in the Roman army would have a male servant with whom they maintained a romantic relationship while they were away from their wives with the army. It appears as if gay marriage was legal as well, with the first and most famous example of this being the Emperor Nero who was twice married to a man: once to his servant Sporus and another time to a free Roman citizen named Pythagorus. 

Speaking of the era during which Israel will be under Roman rule, we sometimes find people asserting that the Biblical prohibition of verse 22 applies only to men. But that is not the case, for in Romans 1:24-27 we find the prohibition applying to both men and women. There is a reason why verse 22 appears to be directed toward only the men of Israel. As with all the other verses of Leviticus 18, the laws given to Moses by God are being passed along to the men of Israel. Every verse in Leviticus 18 is directed toward men but is applicable to both men and women, as we have previously discussed. The Israelites of this era are a patriarchal society, therefore the laws were given to the men because they were the leaders and elders of the community. The men were then to teach the laws to their families at home. 

I am not going to go into a political argument, a religious argument, or any type of sexually-themed argument here in the Bible study in regard to verse 22. What I am going to do is ask a couple of questions about verse 22 and I think the answers provide an explanation for why God makes this rule. What is the purpose of Leviticus 18? It's a list of prohibited sexual unions, but what is God's purpose in prohibiting them? We are going to answer these questions based on what we've already seen in Chapter 18. For one thing, we've seen there's a genetic purpose for some of the prohibitions; very closely related individuals have a high likelihood of producing offspring with birth defects. For another thing, there's a societal purpose for some of the prohibitions; wooing away the wife of your neighbor or your brother or your best friend is a thing that produces an enormous amount of anger and bitterness in the family and in the neighborhood and community. God wants people living in peace with each other. For yet another thing, there's a happiness purpose for some of the prohibitions; for example, the law that says a man cannot be married to two sisters at the same time. We talked about how badly that type of situation went for Jacob and the two sisters he married. Jacob's home life appears to have been fairly miserable. 

As with the other prohibitions, God likely gives verse 22 to the people because He feels it's best for the happiness of people as individuals and that obeying verse 22 helps with the continuation of the human race. The prohibition of verse 22 is linked in part to God's desire for people to live a happy and peaceful life, and I think it's linked in part to God's desire for the human race to continue. Biologically speaking, pregnancy and birth can't occur as a natural result of two men being married to each other or two women being married to each other. I know in modern times there are some ways around these physical limitations (a woman in a same sex marriage can be artificially inseminated or undergo IVF treatments) but children cannot be conceived naturally without intervention. So we see that one reason God prohibits this type of relationship is because it is incapable of producing offspring and contributing to the continuation of the human race. God created the earth, the universe, and everything in it to sustain human life. The continuation of our species is obviously a high priority to Him. We are the crowning glory of His creation and He engineered the family unit in such a way as to enable procreation and the continuation of our species. 

As far as the "happiness quotient" is concerned, we have only to consider the prejudice, discrimination, and struggles that have always faced and continue to face many of those who are a part of a same sex couple. To compare their experiences to those of opposite sex couples, we don't see anyone protesting at courthouses trying to prevent a man and a woman from going inside to obtain a marriage license. We don't hear about anyone refusing to bake a wedding cake that features one bride and one groom. We don't hear stories of opposite sex couples being abused verbally or physically because they are holding hands in public. Opposite sex couples have never felt the pressure to hide their feelings for each other and they've never had to go through the difficult experience of coming out to disapproving family members or friends. Opposite sex couples don't have to deal with the depression that often comes from being treated differently. Suicide and attempted suicide are far more prevalent among gay and bisexual youth than they are among heterosexual youth and that's because they face so much opposition and discrimination, not to mention having to deal with the reactions of some of their family members and friends who may even disown them when they come out. I think one reason God provides the prohibition of verse 22 is because life can be extremely difficult for same sex couples.

Lest anyone think that I harbor any prejudice whatsoever against anyone who is gay, I want to be clear that I have several close, very dear friends who are gay and quite a few acquaintances and work clients who are gay. It makes no difference to me. I don't even think about it. I am not going to love a gay friend less than a straight friend. I am not going to provide a different quality of service at work to gay clients than I do to straight clients. When I'm with friends do I separate them in my mind as my "gay friends" or my "straight friends"? No, no more than I would think of some of my friends as my "white friends" or my "black friends". Every human being is worthy of the same level of love and respect. The Lord equally loves and respects every human being on the face of the earth. The Lord Jesus gave His life equally for every person on the face of the earth. When Jesus hung on the cross, He wasn't shedding His blood only for the white people, or only for the straight people, or only for the Jewish people, or only for the Gentile people, or only for the rich people, or only for the tall people, or only for the influential people, or only for the best looking people----you see where I'm going. Jesus loves everyone, Jesus died for everyone, and Jesus offers salvation to everyone. 

If we treat anyone differently due to any facet of their life that differs from our own, we are not doing what Jesus would do. Weren't we all different from Jesus? You bet we were! We couldn't have been more different from Him. He is the holy and spotless and sinless and perfect Lamb of God, but He was willing to stretch out His arms to all of us by stretching them out on the cross. There is no way we can be more like Him than by treating everyone around us with love and respect. There is no way we can reach anyone around us with the gospel message unless we love people like Jesus loves people. 

I am not anyone's judge. I am not anyone's Savior. The most I can do for my fellow human beings, whether they are gay or straight or anything else, is show the love of Christ to them. When Christ ascended to heaven, He gave us what is known as "The Great Commission", which is to share the gospel with the whole world. Who wants to hear a gospel about a loving God when the person sharing the gospel doesn't love his fellow human beings? No, one, that's who. How can anyone believe Jesus loves them when Christians don't appear to love them? Our job is to love others and tell them Jesus loves them. That's it. Our Redeemer, the King of kings and Lord of lords, is responsible for the rest.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Leviticus. Day 58, Unlawful Sexual Relations, Part Four

We will be concluding Chapter 18 in today's and tomorrow's study. Then on Tuesday we will move on into the study of the various other laws given to the people by the Lord through Moses. The Israelites are going to be setting up a society and a government in the promised land and they will need all these laws and regulations and moral codes to guide them.

Chapter 18 deals with sexual unions that are forbidden by the Lord. Some are forbidden due to close familial relationships. Some are forbidden due to close legal relationships. Some are forbidden because they are unseemly, or ungodly, or unprofitable for the continuation of the human race, or unkind to others (for example, having an affair with someone else's spouse or luring their spouse away from them).

Do you recall a Bible character who ended up in a relationship like the following one? "Do not take your wife's sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is still living." (Leviticus 18:18) 

Jacob was married to two sisters, though not by his own choice. He was tricked into marrying Leah, whom he did not love, when her father Laban substituted her for Rachel under the bridal veil. Jacob didn't know he was marrying the wrong woman. He thought he was marrying Rachel, for whom he had already worked seven years to pay her father the bride price. After he found out he'd been deceived, he was still able to marry Rachel after living with Leah for seven days, but Laban made him work an additional seven years for Rachel, using the first seven years of Jacob's labor as the bride price for Leah. Being married to two sisters caused a great deal of unhappiness in Jacob's family. It drove a wedge between the sisters so that they couldn't stand each other. It created jealousy between the children of Leah and the children of Rachel. Neither Jacob nor any of his family lived a very peaceful life due to this arrangement. Although God's plan for marriage was demonstrated when He created Adam and Eve and made them husband and wife, sometimes we find wealthier men of the Bible having more than one wife. If a man chooses to have more than one wife he must not marry sisters. A man could marry his wife's sister if his wife died, but he can't be married to his wife's sister while his wife is still living. 

Verse 19 is just a hygiene reminder about something we studied in Leviticus 15. If you missed that session you can find it in the archived posts for Day 45 and Day 46. "Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period." (Leviticus 18:19)

"Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife and defile yourself with her." (Leviticus 18:20) This is adultery. The woman is already married to someone else. It is a very serious sin in the eyes of God (and included in the ten commandments) for a person to have relations with the spouse of someone else. The Lord gave this stern warning about allowing oneself to gaze upon and think about and covet what belongs to someone else: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Exodus 20:17) 

We aren't to allow ourselves to have thoughts like this: "I wish my husband was like Sharon's husband. He's so thoughtful and attentive. He's always bringing flowers and gifts home to her for no reason at all. My husband never even remembers my birthday." I've known a few women whose husbands were continually bringing gifts home all the time due to guilty consciences because they were being unfaithful and trying to hide it. The grass may look greener on the other side, but if we had to trade places with "Sharon" we might find ourselves miserable. And if the grass isn't green enough on our side of the fence, we need to work harder on our marriage. If we feel like we're doing all the work or if our spouse isn't very interested in making any changes, that's something we should be bringing to the Lord in prayer every day. The Lord is more than able to change our spouse's heart and give an attitude adjustment wherever needed. The Lord can fix things that are beyond our human ability to fix. Daily praying to the Lord to help us love our spouse, and to help our spouse love us, and to help us display a Christlike attitude in the home, will go a long way toward helping us achieve the kind of marriage we want.

I am by no means an expert on marriage. During most of mine and my husband's twenty-six year marriage, we've been more of an example of what not to do. Several times over the years we considered divorce. There was one occasion when the only reason I didn't file for divorce was because I didn't have the money to pay half the legal fees up front, which was a non-refundable deposit of about $3,000. Lawyers typically charge fees like this because so many people back out of divorces after the lawyers have already put a fair amount of work into the case. In the year 2010 I wouldn't have given my marriage more than a 10% chance of surviving. The only reason I gave it a chance at all was in case the Lord came through with a miracle. And do you know what? He did! I'm not promising anyone that the Lord will keep your marriage from falling apart, because if one person resists the Lord's will and refuses to repent or change their ways, they have been given free will as a human being to make their own choices. They may decide to walk away no matter what the Lord says. If one or both parties to the marriage is unwilling to let the Lord change what's wrong and fix what's broken, divorce may be unavoidable. But what I am saying is that my husband and I are in the same house right now because the Lord did mighty and awesome things for us. He is the one who softened our hearts toward each other and toward Him. It is by His grace alone, and literally nothing else, that we are together today. 

In the last portion of text we'll look at this morning, we find the Lord inserting a warning against an idolatrous practice into the long list of sexual prohibitions. At first glance the idolatrous practice does not appear to be related to the sexual prohibitions. But we must consider this fact: When we begin to loosen our standards in any area of our lives, it becomes that much easier to further loosen our standards in all areas of our lives. The next thing you know, we may find ourselves living in a number of ways that don't honor the Lord. The Lord is warning the Israelites, before they arrive in the promised land, not to engage in any of the sexual practices that go on there. If they start to regard these unholy unions as commonplace and acceptable, they will gradually regard more and more unholy things as commonplace and acceptable. They run the risk in joining in with some of the idolatrous religious practices of Canaan, including the most heinous practice of all: "Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 18:21)

It might seem like a pretty big leap to go from talking about immoral sexual practices to talking about child sacrifice. It might appear as if a lot of steps would have to take place between one thing and the other, and that's true, but sin is a slippery slope. Suppose the people enter the promised land and begin to compromise on small things. Then they begin to compromise on medium sized things. Then gradually they become so spiritually reprobate that they begin to compromise on enormous things. It's true a person probably doesn't leap straight from committing a sexual sin to committing an abominable sin like sacrificing a child to a pagan idol. But the more comfortable a person becomes with having sin in their life, the easier it is to go on to commit bigger and more frequent sins. The more a person shuts his ears to the warnings of his conscience and the pleadings of the Holy Spirit, the easier it becomes to turn a deaf ear to all moral, spiritual, legal, and sensible instruction. A time can come when no amount of sin bothers that person. I am sure when the Israelites heard the warning about not sacrificing their children to Molek they never dreamed they'd ever do such a thing. But they did. Some did. 

You and I could commit sins we never dreamed we'd ever commit (I confess to this in my own life) simply because we first began to compromise our faith in small ways, then we gradually began to compromise in medium sized ways, and then finally we committed a sin that we would never in a million years have pictured ourselves committing. We'd have called anyone crazy who even suggested we might ever do such a thing. And yet that's where we find ourselves. 

Sin is a slippery slope and it's a slope the Lord doesn't want His people Israel sliding down. The prohibitions in Leviticus 18 are profitable for them if they will take them to heart and obey them. If they do not take them to heart and obey them, not only will they be violating the laws contained in Leviticus 18, but they will go on to violate other laws.