Leviticus 18 – Laws of Sexual Morality
A. Commands against incest.
1. (1-5) Introduction to the commands regarding sexual conduct.
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. You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: 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.'”
a. I am the Lord your God. According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do: Before God gave a single command in this area, He first established a foundation for the whole matter. He declared this principle: “You belong to Me, you shall not do as the world does.”
i. “The Persians, for example, encouraged marital unions with mothers, daughters and sisters, on the ground that such relationships had special merit in the eyes of the gods.” (Harrison)
ii. Sadly, the Christians today often take their standard of sexual conduct from the world, and not from God and His Word. Clearly, Christians should be different from the world in their sexual morality, and they should follow a Biblical standard of sexual morality. In the early church, one argument for the truth of Christianity offered by Christians was “You can know it’s true by looking at our lives.” Today, the Christian world says, “Don’t look at me, look at Jesus.”
b. If a man does, he shall live by them: Obedience to God’s standard of sexual conduct is essential for life, and never more is this true than in our day of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
i. In 1993, a Ventura man was convicted for assault for knowingly spreading AIDS through sex. His unnamed partner, who pressed charges against Crother, has AIDS herself. She said in an interview: “This is not an assault. It is murder. . . . All I wanted is someone to love me, and now I’m going to die for that. I don’t think I should have to die for that.” If he and she would have obeyed God’s word, he and she would not have had to die from AIDS.
ii. Though the rates of heterosexual transmission of AIDS in America are statistically small, other diseases are not. According to statistics in the 1990’s:
· The rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are highest among people between 15 and 25.
· Over 12 million people are infected with STDs every year.
· Teen-age girls have the highest rates for gonorrhea in the nation and teen-age boys are second.
· 10% of sexually active teen-age girls have had gonorrhea. One in four sexually active teens will become infected with an STD.
· If you have an STD, your chances of getting AIDS from an infected partner increases 100 times.
2. (6-9) Incest among immediate family prohibited.
None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness: I am the Lord. 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. The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness. 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.
a. To uncover his nakedness: This phrase (used 17 times in this chapter) is an euphemism for sexual relations. It has less to do with nudity (especially casual nudity) than with sex. However, the term uncover nakedness is broad enough to include the idea of inappropriate activity short of actual sexual intercourse. It would also include molestation and inappropriate fondling.
b. The nakedness of your father or the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover: In these verses, sex between parents and children, parents and step-children, and between siblings (by birth or marriage) is condemned.
i. There was a time when such prohibitions seemed unnecessary, even gross. But in our rapidly degenerate society it becomes more and more necessary to simply say that sex between people in these relationships is wrong – and must be stopped immediately, and completely repented of by anyone guilty of such sin.
ii. Significantly, sex among people in these relationships is condemned even if they are adults. These are not merely commands against child-adult sexual relationships. For example, it is sin for a man to have sex with his step-mother, even if they are both adults; or it is wrong for a man to have sex with his adopted sister, even if they are consenting adults.
iii. There was both a moral and genetic reason for these commands. “Surveys in different parts of the world where inbreeding occurs have shown that it is accompanied by an increase in congenital malformations and perinatal mortality, for which recessive genes and environmental factors respectively would be responsible.” (Harrison)
iv. “In those instances where the parents are siblings, or where the relationship is one between parent and child, the resultant offspring incur approximately at 30% risk of retardation or some other serious defect.” (Harrison)
v. These commands would naturally prohibit the marriage between the parties mentioned, such as marriage between brother and sister or mother and son. Our legal system has the responsibility to continue to define marriage based on these commands – and if marriage will not be between an unrelated man and woman, who is to say that marriage could not be between a brother and sister?
vi. “Marriage as a social institution is regarded throughout Scripture as the cornerstone of all other structures, and hence its purity and integrity must be protected at all times.” (Harrison)
c. The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness: The idea is that a husband or wife’s nakedness belongs to their spouse, and to no one else. The legal spouse is the one with whom God intends them to be naked and unashamed, in the Genesis 2:25 sense of restoring some of what the curse has taken away.
3. (10-18) Other applications of the command against incest.
The nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover; for theirs is your own nakedness. The nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, begotten by your father; she is your sister; you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is near of kin to your father. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, for she is near of kin to your mother. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother. You shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt. 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. You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, 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. Nor shall you take a woman as a rival to her sister, to uncover her nakedness while the other is alive.
a. The nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover: In these verses, God condemns sexual relations between many different family relationships:
· Grandparents and grandchildren (by blood or by marriage)
· Uncles, aunts, and nieces, nephews
· Parents and the spouses of their children
· Siblings and the spouses of their other siblings
· The children of a spouse
· The sibling of a spouse
b. It is your brother’s nakedness: The principle is related again. The nakedness of an individual belongs to their spouse and no one else, and it is a violation of God’s law to give that nakedness to anyone else, or for anyone else to take it.
B. Other laws regarding sexual morality.
1. (19) Prohibition of violating a woman’s time of customary impurity.
Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness as long as she is in her customary impurity.
a. In her customary impurity: This command is an echo of Leviticus 15:19, where the penalty for breaking this observance of ceremonial cleanliness was described (the penalty was to perform a ritual washing).
2. (20) Command against adultery.
Moreover you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife, to defile yourself with her.
a. You shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife: This is an echo of the seventh commandment (Exodus 20:14). We see the act itself is condemned and there is no justification allowed under the ways people often seek to justify adultery. To say, “My partner doesn’t understand me” or “we are in love” or “God led us to be with each other” justifies nothing.
i. Michael English, who lost his recording contract and marriage over adultery with another Christian music singer, says of his adultery and its aftermath: “Maybe God allowed this to happen to make me see I needed some freedom.” This is a wrong and harmful way to see the sin of adultery.
b. To defile yourself with her: Many people who are tempted to adultery do not consider how the sin will defile themselves. The might think about how their sin obviously affects their spouse, children, and other family members. But adultery also defiles the individual committing the sin, showing them to be an unfaithful and uncontrolled person.
i. Dalma Heyn, in her book, The Erotic Silence of the American Wife asserted that more women than ever were rejecting the role of the self-sacrificing “perfect wife” and are finding pleasure and escape through adultery. But most women who were unfaithful said that after the thrill was gone, their lives were left a shambles. Cathy, an Orange County woman who committed adultery with one of her husband’s business associates, said: “My advice to married women is: Don’t fool around. Having an affair and living two lives may be fun at first. But you will pay for it later. Too many people get hurt.” Another woman, Laura, who had an 11-year adulterous relationship searching for excitement and passion, said: “An affair does not enhance your marriage; it detracts from it. It was an escape. A way for me to avoid facing things in my relationship with my husband.”
ii. From a Los Angeles Times article headlined Parents’ Affairs Can Devastate Kids: “When parents go outside the marital vows, they are taking a shotgun and firing into a crowd. That shot will hurt a spouse, sure, but most likely, it will also take out some people who were never intended to get hit.” In the same article, a counselor says: “I find that with adolescents, the trauma of infidelity is overwhelming . . . during adolescence, when sexuality is super-charged, the parents’ inability to maintain sexual control can become very frightening.”
3. (21) Command against Molech worship.
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.
a. You shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire to Molech: The pagan god (or, demon, more accurately) Molech was worshipped by heating a metal statue representing the god until it was red hot, then by placing a living infant on the outstretched hands of the statue, while beating drums drowned out the screams of the child until it burned to death.
b. Nor shall you profane the name of your God: It is obvious God would condemn such an abomination. But this command is here in this context of sexual sins because often, Molech worship was a method of infanticide to eliminate illegitimate children, eliminating the fruit of the immoral sexual conduct God has commanded against.
i. Molech worship can be seen as an ancient version of birth control by infanticide, as even today many people practice birth control by abortion.
4. (22) Command against homosexual sex.
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.
a. You shall not lie with a male as with a woman: Simply put, God calls homosexual sex an abomination, even as He does in Romans 1:24-32. Additionally, homosexuality was part of the idolatrous perversions which were allowed in Israel at its times of backsliding (1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, and 22:46).
i. Homosexual practice truly is an abomination in our present culture. 43% of homosexuals say that they have had 500 or more sexual partners in their lifetime. Only 1% of homosexuals say they have had four or less sexual partners in their lifetime.
ii. Homosexuals seem to specialize in anonymous sex with no emotional commitment. At one time, London AIDS clinics defined a woman as promiscuous if she’d had more than six partners in her lifetime. They gave up trying to apply a workable definition to male homosexuals when it became clear that they saw almost no homosexual men who had less than six sexual partners a year.
b. It is an abomination: This command is commonly objected to on the grounds that one was born – or created – with homosexual desires. “I was born this way; God made me a homosexual. It is my nature to be homosexual; it would be against my nature to be heterosexual.”
i. The problem is that the Bible says we are all sinners by nature; not a single person is born without an attraction to sin in some way or another. We should not say that God made the homosexual; we could say that Adam did, when he passed on the effects of his rebellion to the entire human race.
ii. Our inborn attraction to sin justifies nothing. The one who practices homosexuality can no more justify himself by saying “I was born this way” than can the person who hates homosexuals justify their ungodly hatred by saying “I was born this way.”
iii. Many justify homosexual practice on the basis of love. They might say, “How can it be wrong to love someone of my own sex? How can love be wrong?” Yet if someone loves their children, it does not justify sexual conduct with them. The issue isn’t love; the issue is of sexual conduct. Of course, the Bible in no way condemns love between people of the same sex, but it does say that sexual conduct between those people is sin.
5. (23) Command against bestiality – sexual relations with animals.
Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion.
a. Nor shall you mate with any animal: This passage prohibits what may seem obviously perverted. Yet we can say that apart from the Bible, there is no moral difference between bestiality and homosexuality, or no moral difference between bestiality and pedophilia.
i. “In contrast, the gods of Ugarit, by their example, led their devotees in this sin.” (Harris)
b. It is perversion: Yet perversions of all kinds are more and more accepted today. In the 1990s on a college campus, a group mocked the campus sponsored GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days) week by promoting their own cause: BAD (Bestiality Awareness Days). Though in bad taste, they made a valid point: On what basis do we say that one is wrong and unnatural and another is not? If there is no God, then everything is permissible; it is all a matter of opinion and preference and nothing else. But the truth is that God does have standards we will be held accountable to.
6. (24-30) Summation: The urgency to obey God’s command for sexual morality.
Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. 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. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people. 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.
a. Do not defile yourselves: Our modern culture often refuses to see any aspect of sexual conduct as defiling. The only measure is immediate pleasure, not right or wrong. But sexual sin doesdefile us and it does harm us. God’s laws are given for our best, not in an attempt to merely test us or boss us around.
i. Statistically speaking, married couples live longer, get more enjoyment out of sex, have more sex, and are happier than those who are not married – obviously, trends that show God’s way is the best way!
b. For the land is defiled: One of the reasons God brought Israel to defeat and displace the Canaanites was as judgment against their sexual perversions. In nations that sanction and promote similar sins today, we should expect that the judgment of God would eventually come and the land will vomit out its inhabitants.
c. The persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people: God commanded that in Israel, there should be a strong sense of social disapproval – amounting to exile – towards those who broke these laws of sexual morality.
i. It isn’t that these things were never done in Israel; it is simply that it was clear that society said those things were wrong and should never be allowed. More and more, modern culture refuses to call almost any kind of sexual conduct sin.
© 2004 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission