As we enter Leviticus 18 we transition from the first half of the book that discusses how man should approach a holy God to the second half which unpacks how man should then live in light of God’s presence. Thematically, Leviticus not only establishes the precedent for grace (the foundational basis of our relationship with the divine), but the book continues in its second part explaining all the ways God’s grace changes everything!
From human sexuality, interactions with parents, honoring the elderly, loving your neighbor, how we handle property, contracts, lending money, to the importance of taking one day a week to rest as well as prioritizing a vacation away form the normal routine — this second half of the book (chapters 18-27) practically addresses an array of topics concerning how we’re to live and interact with the world around us as the people of God.
In order to make sense of Leviticus always remember God called the Hebrew people out of the land of Egypt not only to make them into His own special people, but He ordered their lives in such a way to demonstrate to a sinful world there was a better way to live.
Leviticus 18:1-3, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. (It’s as though God is saying, “As My people I don’t want you to live like the Egyptians (the culture you’re leaving that has influenced you) nor do I want you to live like the Canaanites (this new culture you’re about to enter that will seek to influence you). I want to reprogram you from what you knew so that you’ll contrast what you’ll soon encounter!”)
Instead… Leviticus 18:4-5, “You shall observe (do) My judgments (God’s moral determinations about what was right and wrong which He’s about to go on the record concerning) and keep (uphold) My ordinances (these best practices He’s going to establish), to walk in them (make them a foundational part of your entire life): I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.”
As mentioned in the following chapters God is establishing a new way of living in light of His relationship with the Children of Israel. His presence would naturally influence every aspect of their lives. To this point God will declare this refrain “I am the Lord” an astounding 42 times related to these various subjects. In light of the seriousness of these instructions God will consistently remind them of His credentials and therefore authority.
As one commentator observed, “They were brought into a certain relationship with Jehovah, and that relationship had its distinctive privileges and responsibilities. ‘I am the Lord your God.’ This was to be the ground of their conduct. They were to act in a way worthy of the One who had become their God, and made them His people.” A relationship with God based completely on the grace He showed by choosing them should impact their conduct!
Please understand… If you’ve accepted Jesus as your Savior and therefore made Him your Lord, by definition you must ceding your will to His! As your Liberator Jesus has earned the position. What this means is the way in which you now live your life and make decisions should be determined by God and not yourself! You don’t have to like it, but you must surrender to this reality or Jesus is not your God and definitely not your Lord.
It’s also worth pointing out another idea that arises from the text that stands in the face of multiculturalism, and that’s the modernist belief all cultures are somehow morally equal. Relativism castigates those who’d claim an ethical superiority over others by seeking to level the playing field between all. While cultures are undoubtedly distinct it’s the bigot they claim who doesn’t view them as all being analogous in both value and standing.
And yet, our text is clear God does not view all cultures as being equal! In fact, He specifically singles out Egypt and Canaan as the antithesis of who He wanted the Hebrew people to be! “According to the doings of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do!”
To this point C.H. Mackintosh writes, “The Egyptians and the Canaanites were all wrong. How was Israel to know this? Who told them? How came they to be right, and all besides wrong? The answer is as simple as the questions interesting. Jehovah’s word was the standard by which all questions of right and wrong were to be definitely settled in the judgement of every member of the Israel of God. It was not, by any means, the judgement of an Israelite in opposition to the judgement of an Egyptian or of a Canaanite; but it was the judgement of God above all. Egypt might have her practices and her opinions, and so might Canaan; but Israel were to have the opinions and practices laid down in the word of God.”
So often Christian’s end up accused of being judgmental on account of our contrary positions with this secular society on matters of morality. The voices challenge, “What right do you have to say a woman doesn’t have the right to abort her child? What gives you the moral standing to say two people in love can’t be married even if they’re of the same sex? On what authority can you make the claim there are only two genders?”
When faced with such accusations the mistake we tend to make is to take these things personally — as if we’re the originators of the Christian ethic. No! I have no right, authority, or moral standing of my own. Instead, my morality, convictions, and conduct is set forth by God as He’s articulated through His sovereign Word. Christian, the secular world doesn’t have a problem with you. They have a problem with “the Lord your God!”
Let’s see what God has to say about sex — and for full disclosure this chapter is the closest the Bible comes to an episode of Jerry Springer… Leviticus 18:6, “None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness: I am the Lord.”
This phrase “to uncover his nakedness” is interesting because it spoke of the most intimate of all human interactions within the context of man’s greatest vulnerability and insecurity. Back in the Garden of Eden, in their perfect state, we’re told (Genesis 2:25) “Adam and Eve were both naked and were not ashamed.” And yet, the moment sin entered the human equation, Genesis 3:7 records how “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.”
As a direct result of our fallen, sinful nature humanities natural inclination is to be clothed. How fascinating that of all the animals walking planet earth it is only the human species that possesses this core proclivity for covering. While our culture is both lewd and immodest, it is still the accepted norm that a person’s most private areas remain concealed from view. Even the smuttiest of all skimpy bathing suits still extends over the most intimate parts of a woman. While pornography is a pandemic of epic proportions, the fact remains total nudity and private exposure has yet to go mainstream. Some things should be kept covered.
With that in mind, this idea of “uncovering” another person’s “nakedness” not only spoke of an intimate sexual interaction, but it placed the act into a negative and degrading context. Yes, “uncovering nakedness” described the willful exposing of a person’s most private parts, but only in a way that resulted in a particular uncleanness and defilement.
The very first mention of this word “nakedness” is a perfect illustration of this point… Genesis 9:20-25, “And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent (he was uncovered). And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness. So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him (literally would be his oldest grandson Canaan). Then he said: ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren.’”
If you’re like me your initial reaction to God’s prohibition of any and all sexual interactions happening between those “near of kin” is simple, “Alright, I have no problem with that!” With maybe the exception of those living in Alabama inter-family relations are extremely taboo.
And yet, what many fail to consider about verse 6 is how radicle this prohibition was in its day. People want to avoid this reality, but I have no problems getting weird… In Leviticus 18 God is going to get really detailed about what type of marriages were no longer permissible, because up until this particular prohibition incestual marriages were the Biblical norm. The fact is many of the marriages we find in Genesis end up banned in this chapter!
Logically, if the entire human species began with the man Adam and his wife Eve as the Bible purports, the development of the race necessitated at least a few brothers marrying sisters, uncles and nieces, cousins, etc. Then when God resets things with a global flood in Genesis 6 preserving only Noah and his family such practices were again required.
According to Genesis 20:12 Abraham married his half-sister Sarah. Their son Isaac marries his cousin Rebekah. And his son Jacob actually ends up marrying two of his cousins — the original sister wives Rachel and Leah. Because this family ended up residing in Egypt, it’s likely these practice continued among cousins for at least a few more generations.
While we have no other references of inter-family marriages taking place during their 400 years in Egypt — Joseph married an Egyptian named Asenath (Genesis 41:45) and Moses a Midianite gal named Zipporah (Exodus 2:21), because incestuous relationships remained common in Canaan and Egypt, God decides for the wellbeing of His people it was finally time to officially forbid such practices moving forward once and for all.
Leviticus 18:7-9, “The nakedness of your father or the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover. She is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness. (Sex with mom or dad was forbidden.) The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness (your stepmother was off-limits — in Genesis 35:22 Jacob’s oldest son Reuben slept with Bilhah). The nakedness of your sister, the daughter of your father, or the daughter of your mother, whether born at home or elsewhere, their nakedness you shall not uncover. (Sex with a sister or a step-sister was banned.)
Leviticus 18:10-14, “The nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover; for theirs is your own nakedness (no sexual relations with your grandkids). The nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, begotten by your father — she is your sister — you shall not uncover her nakedness (God’s prohibiting the kind of relationship Abraham had with his half-sister Sarah).
You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is near of kin to your father (no sex with the hot aunt on your father’s side). You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, for she is near of kin to your mother (no sex with the hot aunt on your mother’s side). You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother. You shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt (your aunt by marriage).”
Leviticus 18:15-16, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law — she is your son’s wife — you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.” (In Deuteronomy 25:5-10 a concession will be made if the brother were to die without possessing an heir.)
Leviticus 18:17-18, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter (no mother/daughter situations), nor shall you take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness. They are near of kin to her. It is wickedness (no mother/granddaughter dynamics). Nor shall you take a woman as a rival to her sister, to uncover her nakedness while the other is alive.” (It was forbidden to marry two sisters unless one died before you married the other — Jacob is out of luck!)
Leviticus 18:19-20, “Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness as long as she is in her customary impurity (don’t have sex when a woman is having her monthly cycle). Moreover you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife, to defile yourself with her.” (This was a broad prohibition concerning adultery. It’s worth noting instead of “uncover her nakedness” we have this phrase “lie carnally.” Unlike the other dynamic that implied marriage, this act spoke of copulation or sex for pleasure alone.)
Leviticus 18:21, “And you shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” (The worship of the Canaanite god Molech included the horrific practice of child sacrifice. Because God will speak more on this in Leviticus 21, we’ll wait until then to discuss this in greater detail.)
Leviticus 18:22-23, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. (Let’s finish the chapter and come back around to this verse.) Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it (to present oneself before and tarry). It is perversion (violation of the natural order of things).” (Note: This word “mate” is the same word we have translated in verse 20 as “lie carnally.” The idea is to pleasure yourself with an animal — bestiality.)
Leviticus 18:24-25, “Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. (“Defile yourselves…” Sexual sin is fundamentally a crime against oneself.) For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants.” (The idea is a failure to obey these commands would result in the terrible and violent judgment of God.)
Let’s finish out the chapter looking at God’s warning for disobedience… Leviticus 18:26-30, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you (referring to the Canaanites).
For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people. (As we’ll see in Leviticus 21 many of these actions would result in the death penalty.) Therefore you shall keep My ordinance, so that you do not commit any of these abominable customs which were committed before you, and that you do not defile yourselves by them: I am the Lord your God.’”
Before we wrap up this section, let’s address the elephant in the text… In Leviticus 18:22 the Lord God says to His people, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” In the Hebrew this word “abomination” literally means a disgusting thing.
I know in our modern culture, where homosexuality and gay marriage has not only become an accepted and celebrated right with whose defenders claiming the moral high ground and lambasting anyone who’d disagree, that such a verse would be easier to ignore or excuse away… Because we teach the Bible verse-by-verse we’re not left with such a luxury! Our culture is wrestling with sexual identity and most churches to afraid to say anything!
Within Leviticus 18 we’ve seen two different Hebrew phrases describing two different sexual situations. Most frequently we have this phrase “uncover her nakedness” which prohibited consensual sexual activities in a marital context in a wide array of inter-family relationships.
Regarding “lying carnally with your neighbor’s wife” or “mating with an animal” this same Hebrew word (shĕkobeth) spoke of a sexual interaction for the sole purpose of pleasure. You can’t marry an animal and your neighbor’s wife was simply a moment of enchantment.
That said… In verse 22 we have a third Hebrew word translated “lie with” that not only spoke of a sexual interaction, but was even broader than that… This verb shakab (“shah-have”) also meant to sleep alongside of, rest upon, lodge in, or to lie down with.
Within the context of such a passage not only is God issuing a prohibition of any homosexual relations between a man and a man (and it’s only logical a women with a woman), but He’s forbidding a man from finding within another man what was reserved solely for the interactions that were to occur between a man and a woman!
I have found most people who are gay are genuinely longing for the human intimacy and connection God has instilled into all men and women. True companionship and reciprocal love is something God hardwired into the very fabric the human experience. I believe this explains why the gay lobby so passionately fought for the right to marry.
And yet, in this passage God does something interesting… The Creator forbids homosexual relationships because true oneness can only happen between a man and a woman. Two people becoming one requires a distinction homeo-sameness can never possess.
Let me explain… God’s ideal for sexual intimacy and marital oneness could not have been more clear. Upon seeing Eve Adam declares, “This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23)
Then, after taking from man the woman, God establishes the institution of marriage, relational oneness and intimacy, in the reunification of the male and female genders through sex. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” One man, separated into two equal but distinct genders (male and female), reunified in the covenant of marriage, and consummated by sexual intercourse.
A heterosexual, monogamous relationship between a man and a woman occurring under the protections of the covenantal bond of marriage is God’s plan for mankind. It is a relationship of oneness through gender distinctions not gender sameness.
I should add something else this verse tells us… In using a different word for this homosexual dynamic than what’s used for bestiality, it’s simply wrong to make a moral equivalency between the two. The Hebrew word shakab (“shah-have”) presents the motivations and being as much relational and emotional as physical.
In fact, I recoil when I hear Christians compare homosexuality to sex with animals or pedophilia. According to Leviticus 18 the act of committing adultery is more in line with this base animal perversion than anything else because it desecrates marital sanctity.
To be as brutally transparent as I can be about these things… Because we live in a secular society, I have no problems with people choosing a homosexual lifestyle and even getting married by the State if they so decide. Additionally, I believe — like Jesus would do — it is the Christian’s responsibility to love these people and treat them with kindness.
America is not Israel of old. We are not God’s chosen people and our laws are far from their Judeo-Christian origins. In such a place, as a Christian, I believe free-willed adults have the liberty to make decisions I morally disagree with. I just wish I’d be extended the same curtesy. In Saudi Arabia Islamists will stone homosexuals to death in the public square. In America it’s Christians the gay mafia seeks to stone in the court of public opinion.
What I do have a problem with is when our culture demands I equate their position concerning marriage with the Biblical definition or when the State seeks to force the Church to participate. Oh so quickly liberals forget how important it is for the two to remain separate! If only we could coexist — agree to disagree, but doing so agreeably.
This past summer on “Meet the Press” the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana and presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg — who is gay, married to his partner, and claims to be a Christian — said the following when asked about Vice President Mike Pence. “If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade,” Buttigieg said. “The thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand. That if you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me -- your quarrel is with my creator.”
The problem with such a position is who exactly is his creator? Pete likes to ignore the fact the concept of marriage being the joining together of one male with one female was not only established by God in Genesis, but was later reiterated by Jesus! In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus said, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
“Well, Zach we’re now under grace.” That’s fine, but God’s grace enables a person to live a life in line with His Word not in contradiction to it! You see the New Testament’s carries forth the same prohibition. In Romans 1 Paul writes how as a result of mankind’s rebellion against Him, “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.” Hardly a ringing endorsement.
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 the Apostle again writes, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Timothy 1:9-10 presents a similar list.
Friend, you are completely free to be whoever you want to be and since we live in a country that says you can marry the same sex if that’s what you want to do by all means go for it. But the truly twisted idea is the notion God is ok with it. The irony of “Gay Pride” is that it celebrates a lifestyle God says is an “abomination” and articulates an attitude shared by Satan himself — “Pride comes before destruction.” If you accept the refrain “I am the Lord your God” His Word should trump your opinions.
Before we conclude I must add an important caveat… God views same-sex-attraction as being a much different thing than an active homosexual lifestyle. Even in our passage this phrase “you shall not lie” specifically spoke of an action and not an attraction.
While I’m hesitate to concede “I was born this way” as a suitable justification (in fact a recent study published by Harvard and MIT calls into question the entire notion of a genetic causation for same-sex-attraction implying it’s largely behavioral), the fact is the Bible teaches every single person born on this earth possesses impulses warped by sin.
Having a sexual attraction for the same gender doesn’t make you a pervert nor does it exclude you from being a follower of Jesus. What it means is you’re human — born with the effects of the sin nature we all inherited from Adam. You’re broken like everyone else!
You see when Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3, “You must be born again to inherit the Kingdom of God” He’s articulating the most controversial idea ever uttered on earth. Jesus is affirming the way you were born falls short! He’s saying if the way you were born is not addressed you’ll go to hell! In fact, the essence of the Gospel is that Jesus came to transform the way you were born by making you into the very person you are not!
“Ok. I’m attracted to the same-sex so what do I do?” First, pride in who you are will always keep you from who God wants you to be. The truth is all men have to come to a point where they desire to be saved. The remedy for you is the remedy for all — give your life to Jesus and be ye born again through the indwelling of the Spirit of God!
Contrary to what the world says it is entirely possible that Jesus can transform the area of your life dealing with sexual attraction. I mean with one breath we’re told a person can be gender-fluid, so why can’t this apply to sexuality? And yet, if God doesn’t give you an attraction to the opposite sex and this is your struggle, never forget you are so much more than your sexual proclivities. Your identity isn’t that your gay, but that you’re a child of God!
If you’re struggling with same-sex-attraction, have a loved one who is, or simply want a greater understanding on this particular topic… I’d recommend you go to Amazon and purchase a copy of Sam Allberry’s book, “Is God Anti-Gay?” I’d also encourage you to also listen to a two-part interview I recently did on the Outlaw Radio Show with Sam about his story and this very relevant topic.