In this chapter, the Lord gave His people laws against all conformity to the corrupt and abominable practices of the heathen around them. Some of these practices included engagement in immoral relationships, lustful activities, and barbarous idolatries. The Canaanites were the current inhabitants of the Promised Land that the Israelites were about to take over, and these wicked people freely indulged in such abominations. But the ruin that was about to fall upon them was to be an example to God’s people of His just wrath against these evil doings.
By the prohibitions given in this chapter, the Lord was preserving purity and peace throughout the wide circle of home and family life. He desires for perfect confidence and a pure familiarity to prevail among families. We have already seen how He had fenced His own Tabernacle, and now He took care to ensure safety and security among the tabernacles of Mankind. All these safeguards are needed in order to preserve the peace and purity of human society. However, this social order is only external behavior unless it springs from a real, inward, heart-pervading holiness! Indeed, close and constant adherence to the Lord’s ordinances is the most effectual preservative from gross sins. His grace alone secures us. And He does not ever leave anyone to be given up to their hearts’ lusts until they have turned their backs on Him and His pleasant service.
Notice how the Lord prefaced the laws that He was about to lay down in this chapter by uttering very solemn declarations of His sovereignty: “I am Jehovah” (verses 1-5). He also spoke to them of His reconciled relationship with them: “I am your God.” He set before them His authority and His constraining love. He knows that Man resents interference with his liberty in his daily life and private actions, more than in anything else; and therefore, to silence objections and to draw the will, He made known His sovereignty and His love. Besides, nothing is so directly fitted to subdue lust as a full recognition of the glorious Godhead and His presence in the soul. The sweetness and blessedness of our ever-present God causes a holy and heavenly satisfaction in our souls, and this completely banishes impure desires. Hence we read in 2 Peter 1:4: “Partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” In Romans 1:23-24, the root of uncleanness is said to be that “they changed the glory of the incorruptible God.” In verses 25 and 26 of that same chapter, the origin of vile affections is declared to be that “they changed the truth of God into a lie, and served the creature.” And in verses 28 and 29, it is plainly stated that their not liking to retain God in their knowledge was the cause of the unrighteousness and fornication that followed.
It was necessary to denounce every variant of these abominable vices before Israel took possession of such a land where these wicked deeds were freely practiced. The land of Canaan was a place where even the natural scenery and green trees were abused by the heathen inhabitants to favor their lusts. Without the grace of God, its pleasant climate and luxuriant fruits would very easily tend to excite the gratification of fleshly lusts, just as the fullness of Sodom did (Ezek. 16:49). Prosperity and peace are only safe for us when our souls are partakers of Divine holiness. The Promised Land combined these two things, and so it was the perfect picture or foreshadowing of the “new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.” It was a land flowing with milk and honey; and at the same time, when the Israelites had moved in, it was peopled by a nation whose hearts felt the love of Jehovah, and whose consciences bowed to His holy laws.
As we read this chapter, which forbids all forms of immoral relationships, we may wonder why it was acceptable for the earliest generations of Adam and Eve’s descendants to marry their brothers or sisters. Up until the time of Moses, God had not necessarily forbidden brothers and sisters to marry – as long as the relationship was one man and one woman for life. In fact, at the very beginning of time, it would have been absolutely necessary for Adam and Eve’s children to marry one another; for they were the only family of human beings! However, at the time of Moses, the earth’s population was obviously large enough to render it very much unnecessary for brothers and sisters to marry each other, as they were obliged to do in the beginning. Hence the Lord’s prohibition against such relationships in this chapter. One very important reason why God no longer permits marriages between close relatives is because there is more potential that they would have children with serious deformities. Because of the Curse on sin, our genes are subject to mistakes and mutations that cause major defects and diseases; and these genetic mistakes have been accumulating for thousands of years. Children inherit one set of genes from each parent; and if the parents are closely related and have the same genetic mistakes, there is a greater chance they will pass on these mistakes to their children. However, in the beginning, the first generations of Adam and Eve’s sons and daughters would have had relatively few genetic mistakes; and so originally, it would have not been a problem for brothers and sisters to marry each other.
May this chapter cause us to humbly acknowledge the awful state of corruption to which we have fallen; but let us not forget to look to Jesus, Who has redeemed us from our sins, and Who gives us grace to walk in holiness!
Lord, after reading this portion of Your Word, we are smitten with a deep sense of our miserable state by reason of the Fall. We beseech You to wash us clean from all our iniquities, and we pray for grace to be enabled to continually mortify the deeds of our natural flesh. Amen.
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