Just as ancient Israel was to be quite distinct and separate from the pagan nations in terms of how they lived – especially in the area of sexuality – so too the church today is to be quite distinct and separate from the world around it. Yet far too often we see Christians living and acting just like their non-Christian counterparts – and even attacking biblical Christians who dare to remain true to Christ and Scripture.
The Bible throughout warns about sin and its consequences, and plenty of different sorts of sins are mentioned of course. But it is to be noted just how often sexual sin is discussed. If critics – be they secularists, atheists, or liberal believers – claim we focus too much on matters of sexuality, they have to take their complaints to God himself who is the one who has focused so much on this.
There would be hundreds of passages to appeal to here in both Testaments on this. A look at just a few of them in a bit more detail in articles such as this.
But my current reading in Leviticus has highlighted just how important all this is. Chapters 18 and 20 both speak of various sins that the people must avoid. They are overwhelmingly sexual in nature, and the chapters list many types of them, including fornication, adultery, incest and homosexuality.
But what especially stands out is how each chapter ends. The Lord made it perfectly clear that these sexual sins are the main reason why he is judging Canaan, and why he is using the Israelites to displace them. And he also warns his people that they better make sure they do not fall into the same sins and commit the same evil.
In Lev. 18:24-30 we read these words:
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), 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.
And in Lev. 20:22-24 we find similar things being said:
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.
These two passages make it quite clear what Yahweh thought of the practices of the Canaanites and why they had to go. Indeed, way back in Genesis 15 God had told Abram that the wickedness of the people there was not yet full, but in due course the level of wickedness would be maxed out, meaning God’s people would take over Canaan. As verses 12-16 read:
As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
In Deuteronomy 9:4-6 we learn more about why God used his people to drive out the Canaanites:
After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.
The wickedness of the Canaanites was spoken about elsewhere in the Old Testament. Just one further passage will suffice here. In Deut. 20:16–18 we learn about just how bad things were, and why God had to take such drastic steps:
Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.
And what things were they doing for their gods? In his 2011 book Is God a Moral Monster?, Paul Copan devotes several chapters to the taking of Canaan by the Israelites. As he writes:
Sometimes God simply gives up on nations, cities, or individuals when they’ve gone past a point of no return. Judgment— whether directly or indirectly—is the last resort.
What kind of wickedness are we talking about? We’re familiar with the line, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” In the case of the Canaanites, the Canaanites’ moral apples didn’t fall far from the tree of their pantheon of immoral gods and goddesses. So if the Canaanite deities engaged in incest, then it is not surprising that incest wasn’t treated as a serious moral wrong among the Canaanite people. As we’ve seen adultery (temple sex), bestiality, homosexual acts (also temple sex), and child sacrifice were also permitted (cf. Lev, 18:20-30).
Humans are “imaging” beings, designed to reflect the likeness and glory of their Creator. If we worship the creaturely rather than the Creator, we’ll come to resemble or image the idols of our own devising and that in which we place our security. The sexual acts of the gods and goddesses were imitated by the Canaanites as a kind of magical act: the more sex on the Canaanite high places, the more this would stimulate the fertility god Baal to have sex with his consort, Anath, which meant more semen (rain) produced to water the earth.
Let’s add to this the bloodlust and violence of the Canaanite deities….
To all this I can add a few thoughts from some commentaries on Leviticus.