Meditations in the Law : No.39 : Sexual Relations
Lev 18:5,6 Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD. `No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD.
The Law now moves on to regularise relationships. We may see the injunctions in the early part of this chapter as all about sex, but in the word of God sex and ongoing relationship are inextricably linked. Sex is about relationship, we find, in God’s word. We, in this modern world, have separated sex from relationship so that sex is purely a single physical act which may appear to have no other ongoing consequences (although it does!). The instructions here come with very strong preliminary authority. In the first six verses, taking us into the laws about relationship – indeed linking strongly the preliminary warnings with the following laws – we find “I am the Lord” four times. It is the Lord imprinting His authority on these laws. He emphasises Himself because He declares, “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.” (v.3) The implication is that there is chaos in relationships in Egypt and in Canaan and the Lord is creating a people where there is order, honour and respect (as we’ll soon see).
Verse 6 above summarises all that follows in verses 7 to 16. We will not consider them separately but simply note that the word ‘dishonour’ appears five times in those verses. Honour is all about respecting and esteeming others, about recognising their role, status or position. For instance in God’s order of things a husband and wife have a unique relationship and they become one (Gen 2:24). For a person to have sex with his mother abuses the uniqueness of that relationship. In each case there is assumed a special relationship which is held in high esteem before the Lord and to step into that relationship sexually is to abuse it and to disregard God and His design for mankind.
In verse 17 the disregard for different and unique relationships is spoken of as ‘wickedness’. Verse 18 extends that in a way that suggests to us that all of these rules have the thought behind them of care and concern for various parties concerned. Where there is abuse of these unique (as they are supposed to be) relationships, people are going to be hurt and upset. Dishonouring means disrespecting and disrespecting means demeaning and demeaning means causing hurt. It is probably this thinking that is behind the exhortation not to have sex during a woman’s period (v.19). Most women are highly sensitive about their state and the demands for sex by an insensitive husband disregards her feelings. Verse 20 is a simple exhortation to avoid adultery and verse 21 a simple prohibition against child sacrifice. It is this law that reminds us again that these laws are legislating against the anarchistic practices of the pagan nations which involve fear and abuse in a large measure. Verse 22 is a straight prohibition of homosexual sex which God declares here is ‘detestable’. Likewise sex with animals (v.23) is straight forward perversion. Remember these descriptions in the light of modern trends.
Now godless, unrighteous, modern man may decry these rules and call for total freedom of sex, but in so doing such a person is putting themselves totally at odds with God. The warnings at the beginning of the chapter were serious; the ones at the end are even more serious! Listen to the strong language: “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.” (v.24) Defiled means made dirty, polluted, spoiled. He goes on: “Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” (v.25) That’s why He had the Canaanites put out of that land, because of their appalling behaviour. So He continues, “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.” (v.26) That is the strength of the Lord’s feeling about those who live so contrary to the way He has designed them to live. So He concludes: “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.” (v.27,28). It is a clear warning: if you live like them you will end up in the same way. We seem to speak about free sex as if it is something that grown up and mature people accept, but in fact God indicates that it is exactly the opposite. Such people disdain relationships and go for cheap physical gratification but such will be the cause of the downfall of a nation.
The chapter concludes with a final warning and exhortation: “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.” (v.29,30) If you had any casual thoughts about these things, think again. God is deeply serious about these things because they undermine the very fabric of society. These laws are not to ‘spoil people’s fun’ but are to protect individuals and hold society together. We ignore them at our peril.