Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Out of bounds: Leviticus 18

One thing that cannot be said of Scripture, especially the book of Leviticus, is that it leaves things unsaid. Take our chapter for today: Leviticus 18 (link) as an example. Here we see a long list of people you can and cannot have sex with. Let’s cut this to the chase: this is about sexual behavior, both that which is acceptable and that which is not.

Getting into this chapter is a journey, partially, into disgusting territory. For most of us, the idea of “approaching a blood relative to uncover nakedness” is something that we not only would not consider, it’s a little bit of an appetite suppressant to think about. Then there are the other aspects discussed: people who are related not by blood but by “law:” cousins, step-siblings, father’s new wives, etc…

Suffice it to say that a strict adherence to Leviticus 18 would spoil every soap opera you have ever known.

Yet there are items not prohibited in Leviticus that many of us would argue should be. Polygamy is not out-of-bounds here, though there are limitations on who you can and cannot pluralize your marriage with. There are no proscriptions on behavior, at least here, between unmarried and unrelated people. Both of these, though, a typical Judeo-Christian ethic speak to.

Why is that? Because Leviticus 18 is not the only place where God speaks to our relationships. That topic echoes through Scripture—polygamy is right out based in original Creation and in the New Testament picture of Christ and the Church. Other Scripture keeps the passions of love contained in marriage. Is this because God is a out to suck the fun out of life? Too often, church people have acted as if this is the case.

Instead, though, I would suggest that we view this a little differently. The passions of sex and romance are powerful. There is an interaction there that builds a bond that is not easily broken.

As an aside: this is a place where atheistic evolutionists, theistic evolutionists, young earth creationists, and that alien-dude from the History Channel all agree. For different reasons, but you find a general agreement that human sexuality bonds relationships. More than the humans partaking intend to. One odd thing to me: our national morality flies in the face of reality in this. We act, morally, as if this does not happen. And practically every worldview, even those in major conflict with each other, agrees that it does. i

In this, sexual behavior bonds relationships like locomotives move heavy things. If you run it on the track, you get where you are going and it’s good. Run it off the track? Well, there’s derailments that need minor adjustments, derailments that cause major damage, and derailments that require miles of evacuations and lots of hazmat cleanup. Need me to walk you through the whole metaphor?

The larger issue of this chapter is found in the opening verses. Leviticus 18:2-5 address the reason behind these laws. The purpose behind God declaring that certain relationships are out-of-bounds. Why, at the end of the chapter, one was not to sacrifice children and call it religion.


Because God’s people are supposed to behave differently from the people around them. They were not to act like the nature-focused worshippers of Egypt nor the man-centered worshippers of Canaan. They were to be different. They were to worship God as God commanded, not as they wanted to.

And that worship extended to their every day lives. It extended to the foods they ate and the way they cooked them. It extended even to who they slept with and who they did not sleep with. Everything about life was part of their worship.

So what about us?

Do we, living as we do under a different covenant and in a different time, true, come anywhere near that exhaustive of a worship? I think it is worth considering: we want to make people comfortable around us, which is valuable, but we cannot do so by contradicting God’s law.

Another portion that we must consider is this: God’s people dwelt amidst people whose morality was shaped and driven by other deities. It is truly no different now: God’s people dwell among people of different moralities, shaped by different deities. We choose between options here: should we force others to come to our morality or live out our morality and let it stand in contrast? (of course, the latter assumes being extended the right to live as we please being defended by others who live as they pleased, which is actually pretty unlikely. Few deities brook competition, and modern ones no less so than ancient ones.)

We must steel our nerves to live as God commands. This was the call on the Israelites then. It was the call on the Early Church of Acts. It is the call on the Church of the Free now: prepare yourselves to live as strangers in the midst. Live that way. Let others join by the draw of the Holy, not by the smack of the saved.

Today’s Nerd Note: Maybe just a one-more step application: there is a simple line here about the land not tolerating the sin of the people. Ever looked at history and seen that many major empires collapsed at the height of their decadence? That’s fairly true. It’s also true that many of these collapses were accelerated by natural disaster: famine, earthquake, volcano, and so forth.

Draw your own conclusions.

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