17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. 19 “You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.
(Lev 19:17-19 ESV)
22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23 And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion. (Lev 18:22-23 ESV)
A few years ago a book came out to explain a phenomenon in Protestant Mainline Liberal churches. The book Vanishing Boundaries scientifically correlates diminishing numbers of Liberal church membership and attendance with “vanishing boundaries.” These boundaries are issues of faith and morals. What the church believes (doctrine) and how the church lives in the world (morals) separate us from our pagan neighbors and culture. If what we believe is no different from the culture, and how we live no different from the culture then what do we offer that is different? If we are no different, then we are irrelevant, salt that has lost its taste.
Being different (holy) is a major theme in Scripture. Let me give you a lengthy example. Many people have told me that they have tried on many occasions to read the bible from Genesis to Revelation. They move along very well through Genesis and Exodus, but things come to a screeching halt when they get to Leviticus. Why? I think part of the problem is that most people do not understand the placement of Leviticus. Leviticus is situated after Exodus and before Numbers. Of course this is self-evident, but what more does it mean? Exodus is about leaving the land of bondage and sin (literally and figuratively), while Numbers is about entering the promise land of freedom and holiness in God. Leviticus is simply about preparing the people of God to live lives that are set apart, consecrated to God—in a word holy. The children of Israel needed a spiritual detox. They needed to be detoxed from Egypt. God had taken the Jew out of Egypt, but now God must take Egypt out of the Jew. Too much of Egypt is still in them. In order for Israel to be God’s people they must be wholly unlike the gentiles of Egypt and Canaan. To do this God lays down certain specific “boundaries” in Leviticus. God has already given them the Ten Commandments from on high, a sort of birds-eye-view of morality. However, the people also needed examples or cases on how the Ten Commandments are to be worked out. How do we apply God’s law to everyday living? What does holiness look like on the ground from a worm’s perspective? This is the purpose of Leviticus. This is why Leviticus is so specific, clear and unambiguous about so many issues. Leviticus provides a moral order for Israel in the midst of the moral chaos around them.
Another important point to make is to note not only the specificity of the law in Leviticus, but also the types of law that are specified. Broadly speaking, in the Scripture, there are three types of law: Ritual, Civil, and Moral. Ritual law deals with the religion of Israel. An example of this are the laws surrounding animal sacrifice. Secondly, Civil law deals with political, judicial, and social issues. These laws serve to govern the civic life of Israel as a nation. Examples of this sort of law(s) deal with certain expectations and penalties surrounding certain civil statutes. So if someone were put to death for committing adultery then the penalty is an example of the civil use of the law. Thirdly, there is the moral law. This is (I hope) self-evident. The moral law governs behavior, intent, and results stemming from certain behavior. The moral law defines what is right and wrong, good and evil. An example of this is adultery. Adultery is evil (and so are all sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman). So, in light of this, acts of adultery are wrong. Now, a discerning mind will notice that though these are distinctions it does not mean that they are separate. Civil law goes with the moral law. The penalty of adultery is a civil issue, but the wrongness of adultery is a moral issue. In fact, morality is the foundation of civil law. This is true even in our modern, secular (increasingly) pagan culture. An immoral law is by definition an unjust law; and an unjust law is no law at all a la St. Augustine! The same is true for the ritual law of Israel. For the theocratic state of ancient Israel, ritual law (though distinct) was mandated by the State; if one violated a ritual law that person not only violated the ritual aspect of the law, but also the moral. Why?—because God said so (Ipse Dixit)! If God said “eat this, but don’t eat that!” and we did the opposite… we violated not only the ritual law, and not only the civil law, but the moral law as well.
You may be asking right now—why are we getting a lecture on law? You said this was going to be brief. Well these distinctions are essential for you to understand what I will share next. Chapter 19 lays down specific statutes that deal with seeds and cattle and garments, while Chapter 18 deals with illicit, sexual relations and acts. Chapter 18 is primarily dealing with moral issues. Chapter 19 is primarily dealing with civic, social issues. Many biblical scholars believe that the statutes concerning the mixing or not mixing of different cattle, seeds, and clothing material serve also as object lessons for Israel, lessons and statutes that teach and prohibit the Israelites not to mix with the pagans of Canaan, like they had done with the Egyptians. This is God’s way of saying he wants Israel to be nothing like the pagans, not only concerning issues of faith and morality, but even things like how one tends his livestock, how one tends the land, and even as in how one tends to dress. So, the least we can say is that chapter 19 is about civil, social, even ritual issues. The text is not making an argument of moral equivalence: that is to say, mixing and matching your wardrobe is morally equivalent to homosexuality or bestiality. Now, Chapter 18 is not primarily about civic, social, ritual issues; it is about moral issues. Sexual immorality was as common in the ancient pagan world as it is in today’s modern, neo-pagan world. As I noted earlier, God not only wanted Israel out of Egypt, but Egypt out of Israel. Unlike civil and religious laws (which are provisional), the moral law never changes. What is sin in the past is sin in the present and will be sin tomorrow!
Now the purpose of the religious, civil, and moral laws of Israel was to distinguish Israel’s gentile pagan neighbors from the people of Israel. God was setting boundary lines of demarcation, separating the Old Testament church of Israel from the mass of pagan perdition. The same was true for the first century church. The apostle John noted this distinction. He wrote: And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1Jo 2:17 ESV). John was telling his generation that though they are in the world they are not of the world.
As I write this the PCUSA has officially changed her constitution to reflect our pagan culture. The PCUSA has erased the boundary lines. By officially defining marriage to include same gender she is calling good evil and evil good. I fear that the jugular is cut, and she will bleed to death. The boundaries have vanished, and a flood gate of iniquity will follow on a scale never seen. My heart grieves. Pray that she will repent and turn back to her God!
Soli Deo Gloria