God Tells the Israelites Who Not to Have Sex With
I’ve been looking forward to this chapter for a while: God’s rules about sex! This section is pretty straight forward and not too much commentary is needed (but the commentary that is, is quite interesting), so I’ll mostly just be translating into plain-old English what God is saying. Make sure you read it all; you wouldn’t want to be doing something detestable to the Lord!
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.’’” –Leviticus 18:1-5
You will notice that God says that He is the Lord three different times in this passage. This is to emphasize His authority in giving these orders.
As we have seen throughout the previous books, God is really really interested in making sure His People stand out from the people around them. This could be because He is unable to recognize those who are His People without some sort of signal… Of course, I’m being facetious, but it really is important that the holy people not be behaving like their pagan neighbors.
“’No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the Lord.’” –Leviticus 18:6
This will be the general theme of the whole chapter: don’t have sex with your family members.
“’Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have sexual relations with her.’” –Leviticus 18:7
Don’t have sex with your mom. This law applied even after the father had died.
“’Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father.’” –Leviticus 18:8
Because the ancient Israelites practiced polygamy (which was a-okay with God), your father would have another wife who wasn’t your mother—you weren’t allowed to have sex with her either. This law also applied after the death of your father.
“’Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.’” –Leviticus 18:9
Don’t have sex with your sister—whether she is your blood sister or merely your sister by law.
“’Do not have sexual relations with your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter; that would dishonor you.’” –Leviticus 18:10
Don’t have sex with your granddaughter.
“’Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father’s wife born to your father; she is your sister.’” –Leviticus 18:11
We already covered this one (v. 18), but it bears repeating again—God really doesn’t want you to have sex with your sister. Interestingly, it seems that exceptions could be made. In 2 Samuel 13, one of King David’s sons was in love with his half sister. He was so frustrated that he couldn’t have sex with her that he raped her. Before she was raped, his sister begged him not to do it and told him that their father (King David) would let them be married.
“’Do not have sexual relations with your father’s sister; she is your father’s close relative. Do not have sexual relations with your mother’s sister, because she is your mother’s close relative. Do not dishonor your father’s brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations; she is your aunt.’” –Leviticus 18:12-14
Don’t have sex with your aunt. This was permitted once your uncle had died.
“’Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son’s wife; do not have relations with her.’” –Leviticus 18:15
Don’t have sex with your daughter in law.
“’Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife; that would dishonor your bother.’” –Leviticus 18:16
Don’t have sex with your sister in law. This applied even after your brother had died. But it was still very common for Israelite brothers to marry their brother’s widow. Just take Judah’s sons for example. Judah also violated verse 15 by having sex with his dead sons’ wife. (It is ironic that the woman in this story is named Tamar—the same name of the woman in the story from 2 Samuel 13)
“’Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness.’” –Leviticus 18:17
Don’t have sex with both a woman and her daughter—gotta choose one or the other. You can’t have sex with a woman and her granddaughter either—gotta choose one or the other.
“’Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.’” –Leviticus 18:18
Don’t marry two sisters. Apparently, Jacob didn’t get the memo.
“’Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period.’” –Leviticus 18:19
We heard the previous chapter about the uncleanness of blood. So, naturally, you can’t have sex with a woman who is on her period.
“’Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor’s wife and defile yourself with her.’” –Leviticus 18:20
Don’t have sex with another man’s wife—the grass is NOT always greener.
“’Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.’” –Leviticus 18:21
Uh… what? This verse doesn’t seem to fit the flow of the chapter…
Anyway, God doesn’t want the Israelites sacrificing their children to pagan Gods. This was practiced by Ammonites. King Manasseh, king of Judah, sacrificed his children to these gods.
“’Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.’” –Leviticus 18:22
Finally, the most quoted verse against homosexuality. Lesbianism is implied here as well. Later, we discover that the penalty for homosexuality is death.
“’Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.’” –Leviticus 18:23
Bestiality is a no-no.
“’Do not defile yourself in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. An if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were there before you. Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such person must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God.’” –Leviticus 18:24-30
God again emphasizes that these things should not be practiced because everyone else does them. The Israelites were to be set apart from those people.