We continue with a study of Leviticus this week and we’re going to focus on the things God commanded the Israelites to avoid in order to live holy lives. Last week and this week, the Lord spoke through Moses to give the ancient Israelites the Law, rules and regulations the Hebrews were to live by. Are we bound by these same rules, are we under Old Testament Law? And if not, are we completely free to disregard the laws in Leviticus?
God provide His perfect Law to us out of love, not arbitrary restriction. It’s not a maze we’re supposed to follow to achieve Heaven; it’s a guidebook to a sanctifying, pleasing, rewarding life. Laws given to us in the Old Testament in some cases, such as dietary restrictions, were expressly waived by Peter’s vision; perhaps those “unclean” animals were identified for our health and hygiene, but we’ve learned a lot about cleanliness over the centuries. The remaining religious restrictions are no longer applicable, though the protection still applies, that unclean food must be prepared properly so we don’t get sick.
Other laws have been reaffirmed by the New Testament. Sexual immorality of many different kinds were considered an abomination to the Lord, and repeated in the New Testament that they are still an abomination. These sexual perversions stand in the way of God’s plan for us, for the relationships He wants us to develop, how man and woman are supposed to related to each other.
Other laws are less clear. Leviticus 19:19 prohibits wearing clothing of mixed fibers. Should Christians be able to wear cotton and silk at the same time? Nothing in the New Testament specifically addresses this either way. Most scholars would say this is like some sort of consumer-protection law, that silk and cotton have different strengths and result in a cheaper garment. I don’t know about that, But I do know that in the New Testament Jesus revealed how God is concerned entirely with matters of the heart. The legalism of the Pharisees seemed particularly troubling. I would say that the mixed fiber restrictions of the Old Testament have no relevance in today’s world. If I wear a silk tie and a cotton shirt at the same time, it’s not a matter of respect or worship. It’s just material stuff.
All that being said, just like last week we can look at what God told the Hebrews, remind ourselves that God wants a relationship with us and is less concerned about our petty legalism, and then study to see if our unchanging and loving God has a lesson for us today from the Old Testament.
II. Avoid Worldly Practices, Leviticus 18:1-5
So let’s start off with Leviticus 18:1-5 –
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.
Notice any repetitive words there? Scripture uses the word “Lord” four times in five verses. Why do you think the Lord would repeat His name so many times?
The Israelites had just left Egypt where they had lived for 400 years. During that time, they were surrounded by a pagan culture. This pagan culture had a profound and corrupting influence on the Hebrews. Remember when Moses went up on the mountain? He was gone, like, a day, and the Israelites start saying, “Oh my, Moses has abandoned us” and they immediately made a golden calf to worship. The pagan culture in which they lived had corrupted their worship of the Lord.
There were other corrupting factors; in the Egyptian royal family, brothers were often married to their sisters. Near the land of Canaan there would be new influences on the Israelites. Some cultures practiced bestiality. Archaeological evidence shows some Canaanites sacrificed their own children to their gods. The Israelites were moving from one corrupting influence into another corrupting influence. The Lord’s warning was simple. Do not be like those you left, and do not be like those where you are going. Be separate, be holy.
I don’t think it’s necessary to read the details in the next verses of Leviticus, but it’s worthwhile to discuss corrupting influences of our culture on Christianity. Many of the corrupting influences are now so ingrained in our culture, we’re not even aware we’ve been corrupted.
As part of my study this weekend, I read about a man who always carried a small crucifix in his pocket for protection. Then he got involved in a car accident, and he wondered why the crucifix didn’t protect him. How is this an example of Christianity corrupted?
Every Easter, we hide Easter eggs and tell children that the Easter bunny left them over night. How is this a corruption of Christianity?
What other examples can you think of? (Christmas, Halloween, Mardi Gras.)
We can also apply this directly to our personal lives. Before we come to Christ, we are sinners in the eyes of the Lord. When we come to Christ, we become like new, the old is washed away. But where did we come from? Did the lives we lived as sinners have a corrupting influence on our lives that affect our new lives as Christian? I had many corrupting influences; greed, idolatry, pride, lust, gluttony. While I am forgiven of my past transgressions, I still feel the repercussions of my old Egyptian life. They corrupt me, and if I am not ever vigilant, these corruptions will attempt to creep back into my life.
And where we are going? We are headed to our own promised land, but along the way, our faith and our sanctification can be corrupted, even by well-meaning fellow Christians. Let me give you a few examples.
We can all agree that God is love, correct? And we can agree that love is a virtue that pleases God. But understand that when we try to apply this perfect love to our lives and those around us, we can do it wrong. Synonyms of love, definitions of love that are pleasing to God include: affection, charity, compassion, benevolence, adoration, fondness, commitment, caring deeply. And we know what to avoid, the opposite of love, the vices: hate, animosity, antipathy, aversion, dislike, enmity, hostility, ill-will, malice, vindictiveness, fear, dread. But the corruption, the perversion of love, is just as destructive. Possessiveness, overly protective, permissive, smothering love, manipulated love. On the surface, these appear to be love, but they are not. They are perversions of love.
Nearly every virtue has a vice, an opposite, that we know to avoid. But we are not as confident about the corruptions to our faith, the perversions. So let’s talk about them.
Virtue: Joy. Delight, gladness, cheerful.
Vice: Pain, hurt, agony, anguish, distress, misery.
Perversion: frenzy, crazed excitement, hysteria.
Virtue: Peace. Quietness, tranquility, harmony, serenity.
Vice: War, rage, conflict, feud, brawl.
Perversion: lukewarm, indifference, detached, uninvolved.
Virtue: Patience. Longsuffering, endurance, perseverance.
Vice: impatient, crabby, nagging, touchy, impetuous, restless. Perversion: lenient, indulgent, permissive.
Virtue: Gentleness. Kindness, goodness, kind.
Vice: Severe, harsh, rough, abusive, bitter, cruel, rude, violent.
Perversion: Mushy, neglect, lax, careless, inattentive.
Virtue: Faith. Trustworthy, reliable, fidelity, loyal, dependable.
Vice: Untrustworthy, inconsistent, uncertainty.
Perversion: Legalism, workaholic, fanatic, extremism.
Virtue: Humility. Meek, accepting
Vice: pride, egotistic, vain.
Perversion: Weakness, cowardly, wimpy, spineless, timid.
These perversions of Christian virtue sometimes come from other well-meaning Christians. Other times, these perversion come from outside the church, allowing non-Christians to tell us what we’re supposed to believe. We fall victim to these perversions because we allow people to guide our walk with Christ instead of letting Jesus guide our walk. God wants us to be vigilant, that our actions and our heart belong to Him. Don’t let our past, pre-Christian lives corrupt our Christianity, and don’t let others in our future corrupt us, either. Keep returning to God’s word for instruction.
III. Avoid Immorality, Leviticus 18:20-26
Leviticus 6-18 describe various forms of incest and adultery, I hope you don’t mind if we skip over most of that. The next verses are graphic, but I think they’re necessary to understand that God also wants us to avoid immorality in our lives. Leviticus 18:20-26 –
Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor’s wife and defile yourself with her. Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. 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. 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. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living 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.
Sexual immorality, adultery, child sacrifice, bestiality. It’s amazing to me that God would have to provide a specific warning to avoid this sort of behavior. Molech mentioned here was the god of the Ammonites, and worshiping Molech involved sacrificing an innocent child as somehow pleasing. Sadly, the Israelites were indeed corrupted; 2 Kings 23 and Jeremiah 7 both mention that the Israelites had started worshiping Molech. But this wasn’t worship; this was murder. Any practice that takes a human life made in God’s image for the purpose of convenience or to benefit ourselves is murder in God’s eyes.
And yet today, our society has slipped into the same practices. The practice of abortion for convenience, or the practice of euthanasia, taking the life of the young or the elderly is violating the sanctity of life.
How does the phrase “anything goes” describe our society? Do you think “anything goes” should be considered Christian? What word or phrase should describe the life of a Christian?
Homosexuality is condemned as detestable which means this act is especially offensive to God. And yet our society in the last thirty years or so has changed; it used to be morally offensive to be gay or lesbian, now our country is considering passing laws protecting such lifestyle, and to speak out against it is a hate crime.
We are called to love one another, to share the love of Christ with unbelievers so that they, too, will learn of God’s love. We are called to rebuke those who use scripture incorrectly for personal gain. We harm the image of Christianity if we cannot learn to speak the truth in love. Gays and lesbians should be welcome in church. I’m thankful a church welcomed me when I was seeking. But acceptance of the person is not the same thing as acceptance of the lifestyle. Some churches are in great schisms now because they are ordaining gays and lesbians as pastors, in effect saying that a homosexual lifestyle is an acceptable sin, there’s no need to repent. All sin is offensive to God, and all sin should bring repentance, a turning away from that sin. Would we accept a pastor with any other unrepentant sin? One in an adulterous relationship maybe? Sins detestable to God should not be acceptable to Christians. Sinful people acceptable to God should be acceptable to Christians. Those two statements do not contradict each other.
God says these detestable practices led to the land vomiting out the people that lived there, which is why God is giving it to the Israelis instead. And God says if the Israelis or even the aliens, the non-Israelites, engage it detestable practices, they, too, will be vomited out. My interpretation of this says that this great land of America given to us by God should maintain Judeo-Christian values. How are we doing in that regard? Are Christians standing up against immorality, or is society dragging Christians down?
We forget that God judges nations when immorality runs rampant. The Canaanites had no covenant relationship to God, and God punished them for their excesses and abominations. There comes a day when the patience of God is replaced by the judgment of God.
I am struck by the fact that these sexual practices are so detestable to God, that even if the aliens living among them practice it, the land will vomit them out. We should take that as instruction from God to continue speaking out against immorality. When Massachusetts passes a law that permits gay marriage, Christians should speak out against it and oppose this slide in moral values. It is not all right. God doesn’t like it. He is the Lord our God.
IV. Avoid Sorcery, Leviticus 20:6-8
Leviticus 19 contains a host of other laws; don’t cuss, steal, lie, slander, murder. Don’t turn your daughter into a prostitute. Don’t get tattoos. Basically, a framework for moral living, and each of these points can be debated as to whether they’re still applicable today. Let’s jump all the way to Leviticus 20:6-8 and see what it says about witchcraft and sorcery.
I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people. 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.
Some background here; the Canaanites practiced fertility rites at their temple in order to bring fertility to the earth for a good planting season. Worshippers at the temple engaged in sex with temple prostitutes; the thought was that if the people were engaged in sex, the god, too, would have sex, and then their crops would grow.
Israel’s covenant relationship with God is often called a marriage, just like Christians’ relationship with Jesus. When the Israelites were corrupted by the Canaanites, they literally prostituted themselves and committed spiritual adultery. This is idolatry, misplaced worship someplace other than the one place it’s deserved. Our God is a kind and gracious and just and loving God, but He’s also a jealous God. Worship belongs to Jehovah God and nobody else.
God says He will set His face against those that worship other gods, those that turn to mediums and spiritist. Fortune tellers, palm readers, astrology, Ouiji board, séances, tea leaves, anything and anybody that claims to be able to tell the future or contact the dead is acting contrary to God’s desire.
If you were given the chance to see the future, would you accept the chance?
The emotions we feel about loved ones who have died can override our spiritual sensibilities. Even in the church we can find ourselves saying things such things like “I know she’s looking down on us and watching over us.” Is that true, or is it just supposed to be comforting? We miss those we can’t spend time with anymore, but we also want to honor God and His Word. God has revealed certain things about the afterlife, and other things He has chosen not to reveal. We should be careful that we are honoring God and not attributing our wishful thinking to Him.
I think the root of this warning in Leviticus is one of the ten commandments, “Thou shalt have no other god before me.” Wicca, witchcraft, all those false religions that teach many ways to heaven are all detestable because it says our God is not big enough and we should put our trust in other things just to be on the safe side. Putting our trust in other things is not being safe; the occult and other religions are detestable to the Lord.
Do you think God is mean when He turns His face from those who worship false religions or turn to the occult or sorcery? Or do you think it’s for our protection?
God called Israel to live a holy life apart from the customs of the people around them. The paganism of Egypt, the idolatry and sexual immorality of the Canaanites. Likewise, today, God want His children to lead separate and holy lives. Immorality has a way of becoming the norm, leading to further degradation of morality. Our society accepts premarital sex, then it accepts children out of wedlock or it accepts abortion. Who knows what the next generation will accept? There are already ungodly practices around us in such abundance that sometimes it’s hard to even tell what is ungodly anymore. God is calling you and me not to be influenced by the culture around us, but to recognize we belong to Him and He has a greater plan for us.
As believers called by God, we need to seek the Lord’s standards rather than the world’s standards around us. We should strive to believe and exhibit the highest ethical and sexual conduct for holy lives, pleasing to God, sanctifying us and showing the world there is a better way, a higher calling, than secular living, sexual immorality, idolatry, fortune telling and lucky charms. God has a better plan for us. Let’s turn from worldly ways and seek the face of God.