In the same-sex marriage debate, there is increasing reluctance by believers to mention the book of Leviticus. In this study, I will attempt not only to familiarize you with this book, but also explain how it impacts the debate.
By way of introduction, a simple, sobering observation is worth making. In the time of God’s giving of the Torah wherein the Old Testament (OT) book of Leviticus exists, surrounding the set-apart-by-God Hebrews were the permissive Canaanites.
The permissive Canaanites practiced same-sex marriage. Query: Do you know any Canaanites today? How about Jewish folks? That simple reality (the fact that one is extinct, and the other is not) serves to illustrate the huge error that any and every society makes when allowing sexual predilection to determine who has the privilege to be awarded marital status in a given culture.
Many are the simpletons (Proverbs 14:18) who advocate that “love” should be the sole basis for sanctioning the privilege of marriage. But if “love” is the reason for marriage, then how can our courts deny matrimony to a petitioner who loves her cat? Statistics bear out God’s truth on this matter: only marriage between one man and one woman creates societal synergy, stability, and sustenance. Make no mistake here: no other marriage definition affords such positive benefits to a culture. But this truth about marriage is nothing new! Leviticus underscored it thousands of years before our present regressive American social experimentation began!
In Genesis 12:1–3 God promises Abraham that He will create a progeny through him—a people set apart for God’s own possession and purposes. Along the way, several generations later via the Patriarch Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham, the Hebrews found themselves captive in slavery for over 400 years to the polytheistic, pagan culture of the ancient Egyptians. It follows when God finally called them out of bondage under Moses’ leadership that He had some major reprogramming to do; God’s chosen people had absorbed many of the idolatrous, pagan ways of their captors—and who wouldn’t over a 400-year period! (This historical snapshot helps to explain why Israel would be susceptible to worshipping a golden calf that they, themselves, had fashioned in the wilderness of Sinai.)
The other reason God needed to reprogram His people relates to their soon assignment to enter the Promised Land where the depraved, corrupt, anything-goes Canaanites resided. He wanted His people to worship Him in holiness (cf. Leviticus 20:26; 1 Peter 1:16).
God intended to reprogram Israel via his amazing book called Leviticus.
This is the third book of the Old Testament immediately following the book of Exodus wherein the Hebrews have escaped the control and influence of the Egyptians. In Exodus, Israel receives the Ten Commandments. In Leviticus, those commandments are elaborated on in detail. For instance, the sexual sins listed in Leviticus 18 are an elaboration of the seventh commandment (You shall not commit adultery) recorded in Exodus 20:14. Much of Leviticus, however, as it pertains to the ceremonies and rituals that God demanded of His chosen ones, is abrogated in the New Testament, i.e., God’s old covenant is replaced by His new covenant as explained in the New Testament (NT) book of Acts (chapter 2) and Hebrews (chapters 7–10). Nonetheless, the spiritual principles that are embedded in the old covenant ceremonies, rituals, and laws are timeless and are brought forward in the New Testament in the new covenant because they are representative of the very nature of God: the prohibitions of homosexuality and same-sex marriage being prime examples.
Furthermore, many of the ceremonial laws and the prescriptions pertaining to the newly constructed mobile Tabernacle, which contained the Mosaic Law, serve as a precursor, analogy, and prefiguring of the then still future redemptive work of Christ. Leviticus aptly and beautifully pictures the salvific work of the future incarnate Savior.
II. APPLICATION TO GOVERNING AUTHORITIES
As a Bible teacher to very busy people, I often fear that I will lose your attention unless you can immediately grasp how something I teach, such as a survey of an OT book of the Bible, somehow relates to you. Accordingly, before I provide a disciplined, procedural overview of the book, I will cut to the chase in terms of application—lest you conclude prematurely that Leviticus is an obscure, out-of-date book. Trust me:
Nothing is more relevant at this moment in American history—no document shouts louder—than the OT book of Leviticus!
The principles that God reveals to the Israelites in Leviticus are intended to separate and protect His people from the past pagan influences of Egypt and the Canaanite paganism that will surround them again in the near future. Note Leviticus 18:3 in this regard:
“You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes.”
In setting apart the Israelites as a people for God’s own possession and purposes, it follows that He would instruct Israel, among many other precepts, to refrain from homosexuality and same-sex marriage. God wanted then, as He does now, for His representatives to be morally differentiated. States Klinghoffer:
An ancient Biblical tradition, a midrash [“an explanation of a Jewish rabbinic sage”] relates that the Canaanites wrote marriage contracts between man and man and woman and woman, and that this was one reason the land “vomited” them up in favor of the Israelites who took their place.1
Leviticus, then, represents God’s deterrents for God’s people. Note, in contrast, the consequences that God states in 18:24–25 will inure to the Canaanites for practicing deviant sexual behavior:
“Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants.”
Unfortunately for Israel, Scripture records repeatedly that they were less than obedient to all the precepts found in Leviticus (cf. 18:5) and, as a result, in terms of Israel in the future, the land also spewed out its inhabitants2 in the sense of God’s people being taken away into Babylonian captivity.
To be sure, years later, upon their return to the land of Canaan, Nehemiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, states in retrospect that the reason for Israel’s departure was disobedience to God’s precepts (cf. Nehemiah 9:29–31).
On the other hand, when Israel has been obedient, God has greatly prospered her as is remarkably verified in certain eras of history. For instance, under the early capable leadership of King Solomon, the nation flourished (cf. 1 Kings 10). Even in modern history, God’s graciousness, patience, and prospering of His people are still in effect. George Gilder illustrates this truth in his book, The Israel Test. Herein the author documents the amazing disproportionate contributions the Jews have made to world advancement.3 Keep in mind that the Jews make up only a mere three-tenths of one percent of the earth’s population. What follows is amazing and serves to underscore God’s blessing of His people when they are obedient to the timeless spiritual principles revealed in Leviticus—wherein people live holy lives because God is holy, and such garners God’s blessings! Ponder the wildly disproportionate accomplishments of the Jews in the following examples.
For the sake of making the point, save God’s special place and setting apart of the Jews in world history, contemplate the results on the human side of a nation either choosing or not choosing to be obedient to the instructions found in the fascinating book of Leviticus. Ensuing Jewish accomplishments serve to underscore the importance of a nation’s alignment with the spiritual principles found in this book. The Jews, the recipients of Leviticus, have greatly advanced the world whereas in stark contrast, the Canaanites who were disobedient to the commandments of this book are now an extinct people!
McGee elaborates in regard to the prohibited sexual sins listed in Leviticus 18: “These are the sins which mark a decadent society and the decline and fall of empires [e.g., Babylon, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and France].”6 Such historic, recurring national lessons make it clear: all nations, especially America, which has legalized same-sex marriage, need be informed and obey the timeless spiritual principles that are found in the book of Leviticus!
Woe to those nations that are not informed by the timeless spiritual principles found in the book of Leviticus!
Therein are God’s specific guidelines for either national prosperity or else national disgorgement. To reject the clear instruction of Leviticus 18:22 which states: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination,” and instead reward those who practice such things with the governmentally endowed privileges associated with marital status is to choose a path toward extinction like the Canaanites. For the highest court of our land to have turned its back on Leviticus is foolish! In understanding its message for today, may we instead choose the path of prosperity via obedience. All members of the government, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, be ye warned herein by what God says to you today via His Word:
Our nation’s obedience or disobedience to God’s laws in terms of same-sex marriage represents a tipping point with enormous, massive consequences.
States Wenham, “the order of the laws of Leviticus 18–20 is significant. These chapters set out the foundation principles of social morality.”7 Wenham goes on to quote Hertz to make his point:
The first place among these [chapters 18 to 20] is given to the institution of marriage….the cornerstone of all human society…. any violation of the sacred character of marriage is deemed a heinous offence, calling down the punishment of Heaven both upon the offender and the society that condones the offence.8
What a profoundly sobering truth! Hear ye, hear ye! This denunciation is by far the most relevant application of the book today for public servants. Executives, legislators, and judicials, obey ye today the precepts of the Lord or experience His wrath and thee be spewed out of the land! This is the application; this is a profoundly serious moment in our history.
Now that I have made my crux point from the book, let’s continue with an overall understanding and survey of Leviticus. May God give you greater comprehension, understanding, heart growth, and conviction as you study what follows.
As with the two preceding OT books, their original Hebrew names were all derived from the first words in the book. Genesis was originally called “In the beginning”; Exodus was originally called “Now these are the names”; and Leviticus was called “And He called.” The present name of the book of Leviticus (Leuitikon) was gleaned from the Latin Vulgate version of the Greek OT (i.e., published in the second century B.C., the Septuagint, abbreviated as “LXX” was necessary to keep Judaism alive during the diaspora wherein many Jews lived in Greek culture). The LXX name means “Matters of the Levites.”
The Levites, the chosen tribe among the twelve tribes of Israel, were assigned with the priestly duties. The book of Leviticus discloses how God desires the Levites to assist the other tribes with properly worshipping Yahweh. Leviticus is similar in an OT sense to the Pastoral Epistles of the NT wherein God instructs pastors as to how they ought to lead the Church. More broadly, Leviticus reveals how God intends for all the tribes, both individually and as a whole, to live holy lives before holy God. The NT writers quote the book of Leviticus at least 15 times.
IV. AUTHOR AND DATE
The author of the book is conclusively revealed in the last verse of the book, These are the commandments which the Lord commanded Moses for the sons of Israel at Mount Sinai (27:34; cf. 7:38; 25:1; 26:46).
The book states no less than 56 times that God gave these laws to Moses.
In that the Exodus occurred in 1445 B.C., and that according to Exodus 40:17, the Tabernacle (Israel’s mobile, central, physical focal point for worshipping God) was finished one year later, the book dates to 1444 B.C. Leviticus picks up the historical narrative once the Tabernacle is finished in the preceding book of Exodus.
Very interestingly, the book chronicles only one month of Israel’s existence, in that the book of Numbers (the fourth book of the Torah) per Numbers 1:1, begins after the second month of the year after the Tabernacle was completed.
As stated previously, Israel had lost its understanding of how to worship God; they had little in the way of a historical understanding from their Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph) who lived prior to the most recent 400 years of their Egyptian bondage.
Now gone from Egypt and having been miraculously delivered by God via the crossing through the Red Sea, the Israelites were encamped at the base of Mount Sinai. There, God gave them His Ten Commandments as recorded in the book of Exodus. By the end of the book of Exodus, as mentioned previously, the construction of the Tabernacle had been completed, and the glory of God had come to indwell it.
As the 12 tribes begin to develop into a nation, God’s next step was to create a formal priesthood and set aside Tabernacle workers who could instruct the other 11 tribes in the proper worship of God via sacrifices and offerings (all of which in a temporal sense, prefigure the coming finishing work of Christ in terms of God’s means of forever atoning for the sin of man). The book of Leviticus, then, is the instruction and inauguration of the priests and the sacrifices in the Tabernacle. The book is intended to bring order to an impure people (cf. Exodus 32:7–8, 25–28), shape them up, and prepare them for the future conquest of Canaan, the entrance into the Promised Land, and the fulfillment of God’s original promises to Abraham.
No geographical movement of Israel takes place during the one-month period recorded in this book. During this time, they remained encamped at the base of Mount Sinai, where they had received the Ten Commandments and had constructed the Tabernacle. Think of Leviticus as internal infrastructure development versus the external expansion of the nation.
VI. EMPHASIS AND THEMES
This book reveals God’s emphasis on demanding that His people be holy. He is meticulous about this demand! Some of the authoritatively toned passages regarding this insistence include 11:44–45; 19:2; and 20:7, and 26. In response to the holy character of God, His chosen people should be the same. To make the point, “I am the Lord” and “I am holy” are recorded in the book over 50 times.
Further, and as already underscored, Leviticus forecasts the consequences of obedience and disobedience to God’s holiness. In this regard, it is a preamble for the later illustration of its truths in Israel’s Babylonian captivity, wherein their disobedience results in the temporary loss of their nationhood.
Lastly, the various sacrifices and offerings recorded in the book are symbolic. By observing the Levitical rituals, a truly humble worshipper of Yahweh could outwardly express his inward devotion. Amos 5:21–27 indicates, however, the timeless truth and reality of such: when the inward heart was not right in the worshipper, the outward ritual was displeasing to God.
VII. INTERPRETIVE CHALLENGES
This book contains much old covenant ritual, and understanding the ceremonies, laws, and formalities today is difficult. Note however, importantly, that the NT clearly abrogates OT ceremonial law in Acts 10:1–16 and Colossians 2:16–17. The Levitical priesthood is also done away with in 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10 and 20:6, and the idea/concept of Tabernacle/Temple ends as recorded in Matthew 27:51 (in the new covenant, God now inhabits the believer through the indwelling Holy Spirit).
In that God inaugurates a new covenant in Matthew 26:28; 2 Corinthians 3:6–18 and Hebrews 7 to 10, these OT matters should be viewed with an eye for the principle behind them. What portion of divine character is revealed by this old covenant ritual, law, or ceremony? That is the question to ask of the text when studying Leviticus. What are the embedded, timeless principles that speak to the character of God? The student of Scripture will find that the timeless principles and precepts, apart from the rituals, will be repeated in the New Testament. This repetition makes for an adventurous study of the Bible, i.e., matching the OT teachings with the NT. Such is certainly the case with the sexual sins listed and detailed in Leviticus 20 which the student of Scripture will find repeated in the NT, thereby indicating their timeless applicability for today in the Church Age.
Chapters 1–16 explain how to appropriately worship and having access to the one true God. Chapters 17–27 detail what an obedient walk with God looks like.
In the past, and available on the CapMin website, I have written and distributed a specific study (“Clarity Regarding Same Sex Marriage”), on the Bible and same-sex marriage. In that study I made brief mention of Leviticus. What I said, however, relates well how to summarily respond to another who questions what Leviticus means by what it says. Note the following response that I included in that study:
You might want to add or clarify, “Is everything in the Bible that was stated in God’s old covenant about ancient Israel repeated in the new covenant about the Church?” No, it is not. For instance, Jesus deals differently with the adulterous sin of the woman brought to him by the Pharisees. Whereas the Israelites stoned adulterers, Jesus said, “Go. From now on sin no more” (cf. John 8:3–11). Israel and the Church are distinguishably different entities in Scripture.
Furthermore, corporal punishment, or putting to death a man who lies with a male, is not a tenet found recurring in the age in which we live, the Church Age of the Bible. The NT does not reiterate this practice for this day and age. However, the New Testament most certainly does reiterate and uphold the present prohibition of homosexuality.
It is naïve, if not disingenuous, to falsely insinuate that Christian legislators hold to a belief that governments today should stone homosexuals.
On the other end of the biblical illiteracy spectrum are those who suggest that homosexuality is no longer prohibited because Israel’s holiness code is now obsolete. Both suppositions emanate from a biblical ignorance stemming from a chronological and covenantal misunderstanding of ancient Israel and the Church today. Such a lack of knowledge is unfortunately too common with journalists and secular lawmakers. (Challenge them to begin attending a good Bible study that may lead to their salvation: 1 Corinthians 2:14 states in this regard, But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
It follows that both the creation and definition of marriage is something God has already accomplished in the book of Genesis. Defining marriage is not a responsibility He assigned to His institution of the state. For the state to usurp this responsibility is over the top. It is way out of line and is a huge display of man’s pride. It is to say, “In God We Don’t Trust.”
X. ONE FINAL THOUGHT
It is all too common and predictable for those who disagree with Scripture on this point to go ad-hominem on the expositor of Scripture. But such tactics speak more about the one leveling the attacks than the one exegeting God’s Word as it relates to the subject. God loves sinners, but in loving sinners He does not shirk from labeling certain things as unholy. The Ten Commandments all evidence that God’s attributes of truth and holiness, love and grace exist in complete harmony and congruity. God promises forgiveness in His Word regarding those who repent and turn away from homosexuality, Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11). God calls homosexuality sin. (The Greek word for homosexuality is arsenokoitais which literally means male intercourse.) But at the same time God is quick to forgive the sinner who repents of his or her sin. Such is the position of this expositor. Please do not label me otherwise. To attempt to do so is to indicate that your problem is with God Himself more so than the one carrying His food out from His kitchen.
1. David Klinghoffer, “Canaanites for Same-Sex Marriage,” 2021, beliefnet.com, https://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/kingdomofpriests/2009/04/canaanites-for-same-sex-marriage.html.
2. Notice this is a synonym to the earlier statement in the passage wherein God says, which I am casting out before you. The land’s spewing out its inhabitants then is a euphemistic alternative expression to God’s manifest judgment versus interpreting this phrase as some kind of natural disaster apart from God’s direct orchestration. The prior synonym does not allow for that interpretation of the meaning of the land spewing out. God can and does manifest spewing out in at least three ways:
- Captivity by another nation. Such would be the case later in association with Israel’s disobedience to Levitical guidelines while residing in the land of Canaan. In essence, they were spewed out when carried away into Babylonian captivity by an outside force they could not resist.
- It could take the form of God’s cataclysmic wrath, as was the case with the rebellion of Korah. The earth opened and swallowed Korah and his insurgent cronies (cf. Numbers 16:16–24). God can orchestrate other forms of cataclysmic wrath, such as droughts, hailstorms, earthquakes, tornadoes, and their like.
- Yet another way in which the land, via the orchestration of God, spews out its inhabitants is through God’s wrath of reaping and sowing: When immoral people wreak havoc on their surrounding environment. Selfishness breeds omnibus bad stewardship, which includes the abuse of horticultural potential in surrounding lands. Such people end up having to move to find new food sources.
3. Richard Vigilante Books (www.richardvigilantebooks.com) © 2009 by George Gilder.
4. Ibid., 34, location 418.
5. Ibid., 35, location 427.
6. J. Vernon McGee, Learning Through Leviticus, Volume II (Thru the Bible Books, Pasadena, 1980), 38.
7. Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Eerdmans, Michigan, 1979), 250.
8. Hertz, J. Milgrom Interpretation, A Prolegomenon to Leviticus 17:11, JBL 90 (1971), 172, as quoted by Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Eerdmans, Michigan, 1979) 250.