Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Leviticus 18

Leviticus 18: Unlawful Sexual Relations

Synopsis

In this chapter numerous laws are passed down about types of sexual relations the Israelites were to avoid. The chapter starts out with an overall reason, as to why God is handing down these regulations:

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.’” (verses 1–5)

Before we even get into the rules, notice the reason that God is handing down these commandments: because He is the LORD. Three times in this passage, God says so. (See the Thoughts section, below.)

The rules given here seem to be directly aimed at men; feel free to speculate on why that might be. (I’m just kidding on that; all of the rules in the Old Testament seem to be directed at the males, I’m assuming because the men were supposed to be the heads of their households.) So, with that in mind, an Israelite was forbidden from having sex with any of the following people:

  • Any close relative
    • Again, God says why: “No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD (verse 6, emphasis added).
  • His mother
  • His father’s wife (meaning his step-mother, since his birth-mother was already forbidden above)
  • His sister, or his half sister
  • His grandchild
  • His step-sister
  • An aunt—a sister of either his father or mother
  • An uncle’s wife—she is still considered an aunt
  • His daughter-in-law
  • His brother’s wife
  • Both a woman and her daughter, or a woman and her granddaughter
    • Verse 17 says that doing so would be “wickedness.”
  • Both a woman and her sister.
    • This one is actually concerning marriage; a man was not to take his wife’s sister as a “rival wife,” and have sexual relations with her, while his wife was still living. (verse 18)
  • Any woman during her period
  • His neighbour’s wife—this means any woman married to another man, not just the woman living next door.
  • Another man (homosexual sex)
    • Verse 22 says that this would be “detestable.”
  • An animal
    • Verse 23 says that this would be a “perversion.”
And then, near the end of these rules, is one that doesn’t really seem to fit:

  • The Israelites were not to sacrifice their children (or “pass their children through the fire,” which, some commentators state, may not be talking about child sacrifice, but some type of dedication ceremony instead) to the god Molech, for this would profane God’s name
Why is there a rule concerning child sacrifice in the middle of a set of rules about sex? One thought is that the original Hebrew might be better translated “seed” than “children;” in other words, the verse might be talking about semen, rather than offspring, which would make it a sexual act. Other commentators have speculated that the rule does fit in, since the worship of other gods, in that day and age, so often involved sexual acts. (e.g. worshipping a fertility god may have required sex with a temple prostitute.)

The passage is summed up again, at the end:

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.

Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the LORD your God.

(verses 24–30)

Thoughts

Some of the laws in this chapter may seem like common sense, while others might seem strange. It may seem very intrusive that God is handing down laws about who the Israelites were allowed to have sex with—especially to North Americans, who are used to people telling them that they can have sex with whomever they wish, whenever they wish, however they wish. But the Israelites were to follow these rules, partially to differentiate themselves from the Egyptians and Canaanites, but mostly because God commanded it, and He is the LORD. He was to be in charge of every aspect of their lives, from the “big” stuff to the “small” stuff.

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