Description / Transcription
Father in heaven, as we come now to Your Word, give us humble hearts that we may listen to these instructions for our lives, not simply as good advice but as Your Word to us, that we may live. We pray that You would lift up the name of Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Sex is a little like driving a car. Now that I have your attention, let me explain the analogy. Cars make life better, enable you to do things you couldn’t otherwise do, travel long distances, live in different places, visit your family more easily. Cars can go really fast, some of them. Some of them look really cool. And most people, not everyone, but most people will eventually drive a car.
But there are rules. You need to be a certain age to drive a car. You need to get training. You need to take a test. You need a license. And once you can drive, you can’t just drive any speed limit you want, however you want. You have to follow traffic signs. You have to stay in your lane. You have to obey the speed limit-ish. And though it seems as if everyone else is a bad driver except for you, you do have rules to follow.
And these rules are not to keep you from enjoying the car, they exist so that you and everyone else on the road can drive safely. If you don’t know how to handle the car, if you don’t follow any of the rules of the road, you’re going to get hurt and more than that, you are going to hurt other people.
Now some of the rules when you encounter them seem tedious at the moment. Some of them you may not always understand. They may even feel stifling, that they are keeping you from fully expressing yourself on the road. But the rules are what actually enable any of us to drive cars and not crash into each other. To do so responsibly, safely, and happily.
The rules are for your good and for the good of everyone else.
Now you’re connecting the dots.
The second half of Leviticus, from chapter 17 onward, is sometimes called the holiness code because it’s about how the Israelites were to live as God’s holy people. Chapters 1 through 16 were about how do we come into the presence of God, the sacrifices necessary, the rules for distinguishing holy and profane, clean and unclean, how to have our sins atoned for on the Day of Atonement. Then chapter 17 onward tells us then how to live.
Leviticus 19:2 gives the theme for this whole section: You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.
Chapter 18, 19, and 20 from a kind of unit within this holiness code. Chapter 18, where we come to this morning, in particular is about holiness as it relates to family, that’s the main theme, and worship.
As we’ll see throughout this message, predominantly Leviticus 18 is about God’s rules for sexual intimacy. How to handle the car that most people are going to drive.
Now these aren’t the only rules. This is not all that the Bible has to say, but these are some of the most important and we need to pay attention to them. Now we don’t actually talk about sex every week here, but it comes in Scripture, and when it does that’s our theme. So even when it’s a new member Sunday, even when we may have extra college students visiting with us, this is what we come to this morning in Leviticus chapter 18.
Hopefully you’re there already in your Bible, the third book in the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus chapter 18. There is no specific outline, no specific points, other than, you say oh, a pointless sermon. Well, not exactly. We are simply going to walk through. It’s, as you’ll see, it’s very deliberately structured and organized with a series of commands in different areas mostly related to sexual integrity, so we’re simply going to walk through, section by section, Leviticus chapter 18 and along the way trying to explain, illustrate, and apply. In particular, we will come to verse 22, which has to do with homosexuality and we’re going to slow down there and deal with that in some detail.
So before we get to the “what,” most of this chapter has to do with the “what,” what are God’s instructions. But before the “what,” the first paragraph has to do with the “why.”
So follow along, this first paragraph, verses 1 through 5.
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. 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. You shall follow My rules and keep My statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.”
We need to spend a few minutes on this first paragraph because this is foundational for everything else. Before we get into any of the rules, we need to see the reasons. Notice in this first paragraph three reasons for all of the rules that are about to follow.
Reason number 1 – The Lord is holy.
Six times in this chapter God says “I am the Lord” or “I am the Lord your God.” The point “I,” the Lord says, “am your God and you belong to Me. I delivered you. I chose you. You’re My people, you’re My chosen possession. I promise to bless you and I am your God and you are My people and therefore you ought to live by My commands. You ought to be holy because I am holy.”
How you live as a Christian matters immensely to God because it is a reflection of the very character of God. When you go by the name of “Christian,” little Christ, we are to bear in some very imperfect way the character of Christ. When you are baptized, you are baptized in the triune name Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to so name you as belonging to the triune God and therefore you’re to live as one of His people, one of His children. You’re not your own.
The purpose of your life, no matter what our world tells us, is not your fulfillment, is not your self-expression, is not your sexuality. The point of your life and my life, if we are Christians, is to make much of God by bearing witness to Jesus Christ and being as much renewed in His image as the Spirit will grant to us.
You see in verse 2, verse 4, verse 5, “I am the Lord your God.” Now remember, these people have just recently been set free from Egypt. Going to reference that in just a moment. You were in Egypt, you’re not yet in the Promised Land of Canaan, but as He reminds them, “I am the Lord your God,” He’s telling them you don’t belong to Pharaoh. You are not a slave people.
Even here we have earthly rulers that we submit to. We have any number of persons that we must listen to, and yet in an ultimate sense, we don’t belong to any of them. We belong to God. We are His people.
So God says here, “You’re not Pharaoh’s any longer. You’re not a slave people. You are My people and I want you to be holy.”
The second reason, so you belong to God, the second reason, before He gets to the “what,” you belong to a different country.
You see this in verse 3 – “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt.” That’s where you used to live, you used to be somebody else. You used to live in a different place. You’re not there anymore. And you’re not to do like they do in Canaan.
We hear “Canaan,” it’s the Promised Land, bound for Canaan, but Canaan was just another place. It was the promised place, but there were Canaanites there and they lived by all sorts of pagan rights and rituals. So God wants to be very clear. The place where you came from, you’re not to live like that. The place where you’re going, you’re not live like them either.
Verse 24, which we’ll get to at the end, “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean.” The Israelites were not supposed to be like any other nation.
So what if the Egyptians did these things. You’re not Egyptians. So what if the Canaanites practiced these things. You’re not Canaanites. You’re Israelites. You belong to the Lord your God. You are from a different country. And you’re to live a different way.
This needs to be established firmly. It has always been the case, always been the case, that God’s rules for sexual integrity have set apart Jews and Christians as a conspicuous people.
There’s a great book that Kyle Harper wrote, it’s at the University of Oklahoma, about the sexual revolution that took place in late antiquity as Christianity came to supplant the Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses in the Roman Empire. The over-arching patient point of his book is that the permissibility of sex had been in the Roman Empire based on social standing. Sort of at the top of this social standing hierarchy were free Roman men, then free Roman women, and then down to slaves and others. If you were at the top, it was, especially if you were a Roman man, it was just considered that you had such sexual energies and desires that you needed to find many outlets for those desires. So don’t have, don’t commit adultery with a free Roman woman, but when it comes to slaves, when it comes to boys, when it comes to others who are lower on the social standing, then you’re free to have sex with whomever. That’s the way the sexual ethic worked.
He makes the point that the Christian church slowly changed all of that so that the permissibility of sex was based on no longer social standing, but on sexual differentiation and covenant commitment. It was based on male/female, within a covenant commitment of marriage. It was utterly strange and different, this Christian social ethic and the beginning of the Church. Here, a thousand and five hundred years earlier, it was just as strange and radical.
So you and I need to be prepared. In particular, young people, and I always define young people, I guess, younger than me, so there’s more young people all the time, in particular Gen Z, millennial, you live in a very different world than even Gen X’ers, certainly Baby Boomers, greatest silent generation grew up in. You are growing up in a world where biblical, sexual ethics are utterly strange. Not just strange, strange would be one thing, but utterly repugnant to many and offensive. So you need to be prepared. You will stand out. Worse than that, many people will think you benighted and bigoted and they will find your positions offensive and you will be tempted to be ashamed. Not to be ashamed of what the Bible calls shameful, no. We will be tempted to be ashamed of God’s rules, of God’s commands for sexual immorality.
This is not a new phenomenon. Yes, it may be relatively new in the United States of America, but it is not new in the history of the world. In fact, it is more or less an exception for many generations in this country that the dominant cultural expectations with sex had a lot of overlap with the Church’s expectations. That is increasingly not the case.
We see it here from the very beginning. God told His people, “You came from a different place, you belong to Me.” So we know as Christians our heavenly citizenship, that is our real home, so you live by the rules of that country and you ought to expect that living in this country is going to feel a bit out of place.
The third reason, you see it in verse 5, “You shall keep My statutes and My rules. If a person does them, he shall live by them.”
Now note carefully God is not urging the Israelites to earn their salvation. They’ve already been redeemed. This is not God speaking to them, “You’re slaves in Egypt, I want you to clean yourselves up sexually and socially. I want you to prove that you can be obedient and then I’ll come and save you.” No, it’s nothing like that. He unilaterally, sovereignly saved them from Egypt, miraculously delivered them, and now as a free people.
So “live by them” doesn’t mean this is how you earn My favor. It’s more akin to John 10:10 when Jesus talks about the abundant life that you’re to have when you abide in Him. The promise here is that the Israelites would experience the blessings of the Mosaic covenant if they walked in God’s ways.
Now it’s true, we are not under the Mosaic covenant any longer. It’s very clear that the new covenant replaces the Mosaic covenant. So our blessings look a little different, but it is still true that God’s rules are the way to have abundant life.
For the past 50 years, study after study has shown that the best predictor for growing into relational health, personal well-being, economic prosperity, is an intact family where a mom and dad get married, have kids, raise those kids together, stay married. Now we know that that ideal is often, and sometimes through no fault of your own, not the experience, and many of you have not had that upbringing, and by God’s grace you’re following the Lord with great vigor. Some of you through no fault of your own had someone leave you, or perhaps you look back on that part of your life and you’ve been forgiven for sins that we’ve made or have committed. So it isn’t to say that this unalterably sets a trajection for you or for your children, but it is to say what Leviticus 18 suggests – that God has created the world with a certain moral framework, and in the last 50 years, through millions of dollars of studies and smart people researching these things, they found what Christians should know intuitively, that when we live our lives according to these rules, it doesn’t mean your life is absent of pain, it doesn’t mean that everything in your family turns out, we all know that’s not the case, but all things considered, this is the way God has designed things and this is the way of life.
Which is why it’s no surprise that Satan has all throughout history used sex as one of his chief bait and switch. He holds out the bait and he hides the hook. He will not tell us that promiscuity leads to disease, or that adultery can destroy a family, or that divorce hurts children, or that homosexuality harms the body and does not allow for the creation of life, or that abuse scars victims, or that pornography enslaves its users. Satan doesn’t tell us any of those things. He hides the hook, he presents the bait.
God does not give us these rules, which we’re coming to now, He does not give us these rules to keep us from joy, but to aid to our joy, to guard us from the kind of pain that comes from pursuing fleeting pleasures when we think we know better than God how the world should work.
So those are the “why.” Three reasons in this first paragraph.
Now what follows is the “what.” Chapter 18 gives us a number of prohibitions. Chapter 20 gives us the penalties. Here in chapter 18 there are prohibitions. So we’re going to talk through them. There are seven of them. We’ll move through all of them quickly except the sixth one dealing with homosexuality.
So follow along. Verse 6. So here’s the first rule. First rule, God prohibits incest. Verse 6.
““None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness.”
Now that’s a euphemism, “uncover nakedness.” It’s a euphemism for sexual relations and it’s used usually in the context of these near-familial, incestuous kinds of relationships, because it was thought so scandalous that they had to speak of it in these euphemistic terms, “uncover nakedness.” So when you hear that, that’s not simply about the act of seeing, but it’s about the intercourse.
“I am the Lord.” Verse 7. “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether brought up in the family or in another home. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your son’s daughter or of your daughter’s daughter, for their nakedness is your own nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, brought up in your father’s family, since she is your sister. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is your father’s relative. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, for she is your mother’s relative. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother, that is, 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 of her daughter, and you shall not take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are relatives; it is depravity.”
This first principle is pretty straightforward. A man, and it’s given with the perspective of a man but it would apply equally to a woman, a man may not marry a close blood relative or any woman who becomes a close blood relative through marriage. Specifically, I’m sure your head was sort of spinning with I’ve lost track of all the relations here, a man may not marry his mother or his stepmother, his sister, his sister-in-law, half-sister, step-sister, his granddaughter, step-granddaughter, his step-daughter, his daughter-in-law, or his blood aunt or his aunt by marriage.
Now one relationship, curiously, that scholars have noted is missing is the man’s daughter, and that may be just assumed by step-daughter that of course then it would include the daughter, or it may be that because the surrounding cultures already prohibited marrying one’s daughter the Israelites already knew that sex with a daughter was wrong. They had this in their own sordid history, the story of Lot’s two daughters having sex with their father in Genesis 19.
They also would have likely assumed that a father would not spoil the bride price that could come from a virgin daughter, so it was assumed that of course this relationship was off limits.
Marrying close relatives is wrong because you are either uncovering your father’s nakedness or your own nakedness or the nakedness of your family, and when people marry into your family they become your family, and to uncover their nakedness is to pervert God’s order for the family.
Think of 1 Corinthians 5. Paul rebuked the church there for tolerating a sexual relationship that a man had with his father’s wife, so probably a step-mother.
The law was not just about order and design. That’s part of it. But the law was also about protecting the vulnerable. Think about it. This law is in place so that women and children should not have to worry that men in their own household or family network will see them as potential sexual partners. One of the great dangers that all these studies show is when children live with say a live-in man who’s dating a mother at astronomically higher risk for abuse.
Do not uncover the nakedness of. That language is a euphemism for sex, but it’s also used specifically for these incestuous relationships because it implies not only a kind of public shame, you’ve uncovered, you’ve exposed your family to shame, but the language of uncovering nakedness also speaks that this is an act whereby you’ve taken advantage of someone. You’ve stripped someone, literally, of their natural and proper modesty, that these relationships are one very likely of abuse.
So God prohibits these incestuous relationships.
Second prohibition. God prohibits taking a rival wife. Verse 18.
“And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.”
There is a provision in the Old Testament that if a woman dies you can marry a sister, but this is speaking about polygamy. Certainly against taking a rival wife, as ended up so poorly with Jacob with Rachel and Leah, and it may also be just a general prohibition against all polygamy.
Third prohibition. Verse 19. God prohibits whatever makes you unclean. Here we need to spend just a little bit of time on this one. Verse 19.
“You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness.”
Yes, we have to come back to this. It’s here in the Bible. Now this is important because this is the one verse in this section, people what to throw out the rest of it, in particular what we’re coming to in verse 22. They’re going to say, “Oh, okay. You’re going to say from Leviticus that homosexuality is a sin. Well, what about this thing about having sex during menstruation? Clearly these are just cultural laws, they don’t apply anymore.”
Well, the first thing to say in response to that is I think you could make a much better case that all of these laws about sexual relations are operative rather than none of them being operative. Probably would be a courtesy to most women to follow this prohibition.
But the key is this phrase, “menstrual uncleanness.” If you’ve been here through the Leviticus series, you remember that it was a relatively minor issue that with the discharge of blood a woman was made temporarily ritually unclean. It wasn’t a sin, it was a ritual uncleanness. So the rule here is that husbands should not have sex with their wives in a state of uncleanness, because blood is life and so it the system the loss of blood is considered the loss of life and makes you unclean.
As we’ve seen in several weeks with the coming of Christ, this whole sacrificial system is turned on its head and God then reestablishes clean and unclean as a moral category. In fact, God makes the woman with the hemorrhaging blood, just by a touch He makes her clean.
So these are no longer matters of cultural, or rather cultic, cleanness and uncleanness for ritual approach to the tabernacle. Cleanness is a moral category, not a ritual one so much as we come to the period of Christ.
So insofar as the woman was made ritually unclean, the man was not to approach her in this time period. If these laws of ritual uncleanness have been fulfilled in Christ, then this particular command is not operative in the same way because a loss of blood no longer means that you can’t come to church for example, that you can’t come to the tabernacle or to the temple, or you can’t come into God’s presence. The death of Christ has changed that.
Fourth prohibition. God prohibits adultery. Verse 20.
“You shall not lie sexually with your neighbor’s wife and so make yourself unclean with her.”
Hear, unclean, we see the double meaning that some uncleanness was not sin, but all sin would make you unclean. So here to have sex, to commit adultery, is to make you unclean because it was a sin.
Verse 21. Here’s the fifth prohibition. God prohibits sacrificing our children to Molech. Verse 21.
“You shall not give any of your children to offer them,” and you see the ESV has a footnote there, “to make them pass through,” perhaps pass through the fire. There’s other verses in the Old Testament that describe that this god Molech, one of the ways that they worshiped the god Molech was to offer their children as sacrifices, to burn their children as sacrifices to Molech, “and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.”
Molech was a pagan god and there is archeological evidence showing that sometimes people did sacrifice their children to Molech in fire. It may seem strange in the midst of all these rules about sex that suddenly we have this command about worship, but it makes sense when you consider that all of these commands have to do with the family. They’re about God’s rules to protect God’s design for the family, so this law is to reinforce to parents that your children are not to be used for your own plans, your own desires, your own fulfillment.
Now it seems very obvious to us, of all the commands that sort of feel like, “Okay, I got this one. Not burning our children to a god named Molech.” But think for a moment. Think about many of our cultural assumptions. The Bible says parents exist for their children. Now that doesn’t mean a child-centered view of the family life, but that parents exist for their children, meaning parents exist for the protection of their children, the nurture of their children, the discipleship, the well-being, the maturity of their children.
Many assumptions in our culture actually tell us children exist for their parents, so that parents can have a lifestyle that’s pleasing, so that parents can find fulfillment, so that parents can achieve their dreams, maybe so parents can use their children to signal their virtue, or that parents can appease the gods of their culture and therefore sacrifice their children.
There are three sins throughout the Old Testament that were especially defiling and would consider the pollution of the land: Murder, sexual immorality, and idolatry. This command, this prohibition, touches on all three – murder, sexual immorality with the breakdown of family life, and idolatry.
The sixth prohibition comes in verse 22. Skip that for a moment.
The seventh is verse 23. Look at it.
“And you shall not lie with any animal and make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion.”
Bestiality is a sin. Heaven forbid that this will be the next taboo to fall in our culture. I remember just a few years ago reading in some artsy sort of magazine, some avant garde article about how perhaps we should not be so harsh upon this form of sexual activity. Just as you will find reputable people, so-called, in reputable places, already arguing that pedophilia may be just another condition. Polyamory may be just the way that some people are wired. Incest may be okay if there’s consent. Perhaps bestiality should not be so stigmatized.
God’s Word is clear that it is a perversion of the natural order.
Which brings us then to verse 22.
“You shall not lie with male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”
We need to spend some more time with this before we finish with the last paragraph.
There’s a famous episode of The West Wing. I can’t say that I watched it ever, but I’ve seen this clip, perhaps some of you were fans of the show in the early 2000s or have seen this clip. President Bartlet, sort of an idealized liberal president, is in a gathering of talk radio personalities, and he singles out the character who’s called Dr. Jenna Jacobs, who’s very obviously modeled after Dr. Laura Schlessinger. There’s this exchange in this episode which has become famous. President Bartlet says, “I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality an abomination.” Dr. Jacob says, “I don’t say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President. The Bible does.”
Yes, it does. Leviticus.
She says, “18:22.” The President says, “Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I wanted to sell my youngest daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would be a good price for her?” He waits a second. The President continues, “While thinking about that, can I ask another? My chief of staff Leo McGarry insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or is it okay to call the police?” Barely pausing, he goes on more one time. “Here’s one really important thing, because we have a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean in Leviticus 11. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from different threads? Think about those questions, would you?”
And that clip has gone viral over the years because it’s thought to be such an effective, sarcastic takedown of a biblical ethic. Really? Really? Are we going to say this about homosexuality? What about all these other obviously silly laws, obscene laws that no one would follow? You can hear by the end, of course he’s not really quoting from Leviticus or Deuteronomy accurately anymore with some of the punishments, but others are quotations from various passages in the Torah.
The effect, the effect of that clip as he references at the beginning, Leviticus 18:22, is to with great derision and scorn cast aside this verse. How obviously a-cultural, or rather contra-cultural, and how obviously can we dismiss verse 22.
So what do we make of Leviticus 18:22? Let me give you three reasons why we ought to still take this as God’s Word for His people.
There’s lots, we don’t have time to do whole section here. You can look at the clock, we’re running fast out of time to do a whole talk about homosexuality, you can get in the book nook, What Does the Bible Teach About Homosexuality? if you want to get much more on this topic, but just quickly then three reasons why Leviticus 18:22 is still God’s command for His people.
Number one. Because Leviticus 18 appeals to nature: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.”
The implication is that homosexual activity is contrary to nature. It’s against the order of things. Men are created to have sex with women, not with other men. That’s how God designed it from the beginning. He made male and female bodies to fit together. Why did the man in Genesis 2, why did God say that it was not good for the man to be alone? It wasn’t companionship so much; God could have given him a bunch of buddies to hang out with. He could have given him a flock of Golden Retrievers to keep him company. He could have given him any number of things to give him companionship. No, it was not good for the man to be alone because the man by himself could not fulfill the creation mandate in chapter one, namely to be fruitful and multiply. It was only this complementary pair, male and female. It’s that one flesh union.
Why is called a one flesh union? Because it is an organic union whereby the two come together and so fulfill a singular biological function. Why is the sexual act the one flesh union? Why is it that, use a silly example, if you give someone a wet willy, you know? You stick your finger in your ear, no one thinks you’re married, thankfully. You’ve consummated your marriage. Well, that’s something in something else. Why is that not a one flesh union? Because a one flesh union is to fulfill organically a singular biological process.
Marriage is to be defined as that sort of relationship which, if all the plumbing is working correctly, and we know in a fallen world it doesn’t always, but if all the plumbing is working correctly, it’s the sort of union from which children are conceived. That’s why marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s not just we have biblical marriage and other kind of marriage; you have marriage. Marriage is that sort of union, a one flesh union for a biological function. That’s not all it is, but it is irreducibly that. The producing of children.
Leviticus 18:22 reinforces this creation design. Jesus Himself will go back in Matthew 19 and echo Genesis 2. He reaffirms the creation account. You can say, “Well, but Jesus didn’t do anything to mention Leviticus 18.” Well, this section, remember I said 18, 19, and 20, this particular section of the holiness code where these sexuality commands are operative. He cites from Leviticus 19 more than any other verse. You know the verse – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s mentioned in the New Testament 10 times and it’s the verse Jesus quotes more than any other. So Jesus affirms this code in Leviticus, even as parts of His sacrifice will find fulfilment of it.
A second reason for believing that this is still God’s Word for His people is that the sin here is called an “abomination,” “toebah.” The word appears 43 times in Ezekiel, 68 times in the rest of the Old Testament, usually with reference to egregious sins. The normal meaning of the word is not simply a social taboo or ritual uncleanness.
Now it’s true in Leviticus 18 these sins are given the heading overall as abominations. We come to that in the last paragraph. But only homosexuality is singled out by itself in the list with this term “toebah,” an abomination.
Third reason for taking Leviticus 18:22 as God’s continuing word for us. Here you just have to put your thinking caps on for a moment. There’s a specific word that Paul uses with reference to homosexual behavior in the New Testament. If you’re taking notes, you can write it down or you can find it later if you need the book. The Greek word is “arsenokoitai,” a-r-s-e-n-o-k-o-i-t-a-i. Just like it sounds, “arsenokoitai.”
The interesting thing about this word is it’s only used in the New Testament, or rather, it’s the first time we have it is here in the New Testament. So you can’t look in earlier literature to know what it means. It seems that Paul has made up this word, “arsenokoitai.” He uses it in 1 Corinthians 6:9 – “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who practice homosexuality,” that whole phrase is the Greek word “arsenokoitai,” “will inherit the kingdom of God.” So men who practice homosexuality, “arsenokoitai.”
It’s the same word used in one other passage in the New Testament. 1 Timothy 1:10. 1 Timothy 1:10 says the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the sexually immoral, for “men you practice homosexuality.” Again, the Greek word “arsenokoitai.”
So what does that word mean? And is Paul just referring to maybe man/boy relationships, or exploitive relationships, or does he mean as the ESV translates it, homosexuality more broadly?
Well, the key to understanding what Paul means by this new word, “arsenokoitai,” is to see how these two words are used in Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20. Remember, Leviticus would have been written in Hebrew, but in the Septuagint the Greek translation. Here’s what we find in the Greek of Leviticus. Now I don’t you don’t have this in front of you, it’s tedious to have someone read a quote to you let alone in another language, but just listen and hear these words. So keep in mind “arsenokoitai” is the New Testament word.
Leviticus 18:22, in the Greek, says: Kai meta arsenos you koimethese koiten gynaikos.” Gynaikos, think of our word “gynecology,” that’s the word for woman. Arsenos is the word for “man,” koiten is the word for “bed.” You should not lie with another man in bed as with a gynaikos, as with a woman.
Listen to the Greek of Leviticus 20:13, because here’s it’s even clearer: “Kai hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten.”
Now those are two words, but you hear them right next to each other, “arsenos koiten gynaikos.” Whoever shall lie with a male as with a woman.”
So you can hear, even you don’t have to know Greek, you can just hear it in Leviticus 18:22 and even more clearly in Leviticus 20:13. The words are right next to each other, man/bed, man/bed, arsenos koiten.
So Paul has taken two words from Leviticus and he has coined a new word, to refer to any activity of men having sex with men as they should with women, and by implication we can say women with women as they were designed to have sex with men.
So “arsenokoitai” is quite clearly a reference to both Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20, where Paul puts these two words together, man and bed, to make a new word “arsenokoitai.” He’s using a purposefully broad word that referred to any sexual relations between members of the same sex. That’s what Leviticus forbids and Paul reinforces this principle from Leviticus in 1 Corinthians 6 and in 1 Timothy 1. So we have reason on the authority of the New Testament itself in Paul’s explicit usage to believe that this is still God’s Word for His people, even as new covenant Christians.
Which brings us to our last paragraph.
“Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep My statutes and My rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean).”
You have to realize, these are not new sins. These are not new to the 21st century. They are very old sins.
“Lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. So keep My charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.”
God warns His people what will happen if they give themselves over to these sins. They will become unclean. One of the reasons God is going to drive out the Canaanites is they have so polluted the land with their sins, and God warns the Israelites if you do these same things, you will defile the land, and it will take centuries, but they will so defile the land that in 722 He will send the north off to Assyria, and then in 587 He will send the southern kingdom off to Babylon. God warned them and He was slow to anger, but over centuries they so defiled the land that they were spit out.
The language here is striking: “They will vomit you.” The idea is that God’s people when they do these things become like a curdled milk.
You ever grab milk when you’re expecting it to be cold, fresh mild and it’s been sitting out overnight? Let alone if it gets a couple chunks coming down… Ewww. Why do people eat cottage cheese anyway? Or rancid meat? Or stale, room-temperature coffee?
Spit these things out of your mouth. Why? It’s the theme we’ve seen from the very first week of Leviticus. How can an unholy people dwell in the midst of a holy God? How can a holy God dwell in the midst of an unholy people?
If they so defile the land and pollute the land, the land itself will spit them out. Do not imitate the nations. Do not be like everyone else around you. God’s Word could not be clearer.
Now this is a tough word. Vomiting out. You might think, well, this is the Old Testament and the Old Testament is a little bit nasty at times, a little graphic. But perhaps some of you remember that there’s a verse just like this in the New Testament, and it actually comes from none other than Jesus Himself. Revelation 3:16 – So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. I will vomit you out of My mouth.
Jesus goes on to say that those whom I love I will discipline, be zealous and repent therefore.
Jesus is almost certainly in this letter to Laodicea in Revelation 3 borrowing from this covenant imagery of the land spitting out its people, defilement, defilement, defilement. Jesus eventually says if you are good for nothing, I will spit you out.
Now you say, “Pastor, our time is up and you cannot end the sermon there.” Well, I won’t. Because remember in Revelation chapter 3, after Jesus says “I will spit you out of My mouth,” rancid meat, stale coffee, curdled milk, but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. For anyone here mired in sexual sin, sexual sin in your past or maybe in your present, struggling with these things, this does not have to be the final word, because Jesus says in Revelation 3:20, even to those whom He has threatened to spit of His mouth, He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him and he with Me.”
From the food that makes Jesus want to expectorate and vomit to a meal where Jesus is the host and welcomes you in, He’s at the door and He’s knocking and all you have to do is heed His invitation and as He said Himself, be zealous and repent and enjoy the good life.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, surely there are many difficulties that come with a text like this, intellectual, exegetical, but even more so cultural, spiritual, existential. So help each one here to appropriate this and hear just what they need, that we may live and live a life abundantly. In Jesus we pray. Amen.