“You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. – Leviticus 20:22-26 (ESV)
Derek Tidball writes:
Bill Shankly, the great post-war football manager, once famously said, ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.’ This chapter is a way of declaring, in a form that would have been easily understood among the Semitic people at the time, ‘that obedience to God is a life and death matter.’ They would not have concluded, as we might, that it painted a picture of God as cruel and barbaric. They would rather have understood it to indicate that the gracious God of salvation has a right to be supreme in our lives and that by giving Him pre-eminence and obeying His commands we shall live. Only through obedience would Israel enjoy the prosperity of the land they were to inherit. The path of disobedience was the path of treason and could only lead to death and disaster. Refusal to obey him would mean that the land to which they were going would spit them out, as it had done to the occupants who were there before them.
Penal codes reflect the various values we assign to things. The heaviest penalties are reserved for offenses against what we value highly, the lighter penalties for what we hold lightly. Israel attached the greatest value to knowing God, who required His people to abstain from worshipping other deities and to do all within their power to ensure the integrity of their families. Consequently, when people transgressed in these areas, severe penalties were exacted.
The obverse of saying that God is important is to say that sin is serious. Sin is not a neutral activity in which we can ever indulge nonchalantly. It always entails a price. The penalties prescribed for the offenses here are a dramatic way of expressing this inescapable truth. Even without the, the price of sin would have been all too obvious on a human level: children would have died in the arms of Molech, families would have been ruined, jealousies would have been stoked, and society would have crumbled. In prescribing these penalties, God was putting down a marker about the seriousness of sin with a view to deterring His people from committing it. These judicial sentences only bring into sharp focus what people would know in their own fuzzy experience all along: sin has a price tag.
The penalties though, are more than a statement about the impersonal consequences of sin. They are an expression of the personal wrath of a holy God against actions that are an offense to Him. ‘Supreme in the intention of this law,’ Kellogg claims, ‘is the satisfaction of outraged justice. This is seen particularly when God says, ‘I will set My face against such people and their families’ (5). God’s personal wrath is evident when He Himself steps in to execute the sentence of cutting them off from their people (5, 6). Why is it so difficult for people to grasp that the God who intended people to enjoy a relationship with Him, and made His world to be good and full of live, would take offense at those who by their actions alienate themselves from Him and destroy His creation? What sort of a God would He be who was indifferent to the presence of evil in His world?
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 27
Q. 27. Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?
A. Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.