It is only as we seek to honor God by seeking holiness in all areas of life that we can expect to enjoy His fullest blessing and to be useful servants in His work in this world. Leviticus 17–20 sets forth God’s priorities for holy living.
We make a lot of decisions every single day. Many of them are little ones: What am I going to eat for breakfast? What am I going to wear today? Shall I cut the grass today or go fishing? Fishing sounds a lot more spiritual, if you ask me.
These decisions aren’t necessarily life changing, but there are those major intersections in life where the decisions you make can impact the rest of your life. The Israelites are at that kind of intersection here in Leviticus chapter 17, where they are less than three months away from entering the promised land. And when they get in there among all those morally and religiously corrupt Canaanites, they’re going to have some major decisions to make.
But the bottom-line decision is whether they are going to follow God in this world or follow the world against the word of God. Their decision ties directly to the laws and guidelines detailed for us here in chapters 17–20; so as we work through these chapters, let me offer some timeless principles for us today.
The first principle is this: God is honored when people worship Him alone. Now you might think the Israelites already had that figured out—that God alone is to be worshiped. However, God delivers a new law, as chapter 17 opens, a law that forbids the sacrifice of any animal apart from the tabernacle system. He says in verse 7, “So they [Israel] shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore.”
I have to tell you, this is a shocking revelation! God is graciously preparing to settle Israel in the promised land, and they are out there in the wilderness sacrificing to superstitious, dark forces.
You have to be kidding! Now I would expect God to finally have enough of them and strike them all down and start over. But then again, aren’t you glad God is a covenant-keeping God and that He gives them this new law, and even more grace?
God also forbids the consumption of blood, which was common practice in false worship. The people of Israel were to drain the blood before eating meat.
We’re told here in verse 11, “The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls.” Listen, before anybody knew what we know today—that our very life is dependent on our blood—the Lord used the blood of the sacrificial animal for atonement because the blood represented its very life.
This all pointed to Jesus Christ and His precious blood (1 Peter 1:19). Indeed, we talk about the fact that we’ve been purchased by His blood (Acts 20:28). Why? Because He gave His life for us. Blood represents the very essence of life. Jesus shed His blood, laying down His life so that we could have eternal life.
We move on to Leviticus chapter 18 and discover another timeless principle: God is honored when we follow His word alone.
Here in verse 3, God makes a clear contrast between His laws and the laws of people:
“You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes.”
Isn’t it interesting that the Egyptians and the Canaanites had their laws and statutes as well? But what they considered legal or lawful wasn’t necessarily what God considered lawful. In fact, today, what our country considers legal isn’t necessarily biblical.
And so throughout the rest of this chapter, the Lord lists specific sexual sins that He forbids—sins that Egypt and Canaan would have practiced. God describes these sins as “depravity” in verse 17, “abomination” in verse 22, and “perversion” in verse 23.
God concludes in verse 30, saying, “So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs.” God is effectively saying, “Live according to My word, and you will enjoy a life of satisfaction in the land; but if you live like those people in Egypt and Canaan, you will be as unsatisfied and hopeless as they are.”
We discover another timeless principle in chapter 19: God is honored when we imitate His
holy character. Verse 2 sets the theme for this chapter: “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.” Now what does it mean to be holy? We need an answer to that question because none of us will ever arrive at holy perfection.
Holiness is not your perfection; it is your pursuit in life, your priority in life. I like to think of holiness as the direction your toes are pointed.
Holiness is expressed here in chapter 19 by such things as respecting your parents (verse 3), not making idols (verse 4), and offering help to those who are poor (verses 9-10). And fifteen times throughout this chapter you will read, “I am the Lord” or “I, the Lord, am your God.” In other words, this isn’t man’s word; this is God’s word. And God’s word is non-negotiable.
I remember reading about a famous actor who was on his deathbed. His wife came in one day and found him reading the Bible. She was shocked and said, “I’ve never seen you reading the Bible before. Why are you interested now?” And he said, “I’m not interested; I’m looking for loopholes.” Well, God doesn’t have any loopholes.
But don’t misunderstand. When God calls us to holy living, He isn’t trying to take all the fun out of life; He’s wanting to protect us from the deceitfulness of sin, which leads us to defeat and despair and dissatisfaction in life. God’s Word is an expression of His concern and love for His people.
In chapter 20, God reinforces this principle of holiness by describing fifteen different sins He wants His people to avoid. There’s everything here, including, verse 2, worshiping the god Molech, which involved child sacrifice; going to “mediums and necromancers”—that is, seeking contact with evil spirits and the dead—in verse 6; cursing one’s father or mother in verse 9; and a host of sexual sins listed here in detail.
Let me just add this: God actually has a lot to say about sexual activity. Let me tell you, it’s not a little decision you make. It’s not a casual thing; it’s actually an intersection of great significance that can impact your entire life.
God has actually created us for sexual activity so long as it follows His direction for marriage. But He delivers here some serious warnings about disobeying His created design for sex and marriage. This issue is going to be a crossroads experience for individuals, and for nations as well, just as it was for Israel here. Are the people of Israel going to act like the Egyptians and the Canaanites or as God’s people? God warns His people and delivers His verdict of holy justice.
This reminds me of one of the founding fathers of our country, who wrote more than two hundred years ago, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; [and] that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
Listen, these timeless principles are true, not just for Israel, but for every generation. And beloved, there’s no greater investment of your life than to walk with God and then join God in His work of reaching our lost, confused, unsatisfied world, as we live out the gospel of forgiveness and freedom in Christ.