Leviticus 20 records the three kinds of punishments for the various crimes in Israel and their corresponding intensity.
Leviticus 20:2 says that “Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death.” Verse 9 then states that “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.” Verse 10 follows with, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the adulterer and adulteress are to be put to death” and verse 11 says, that “If a man has sexual relations with his father’s wife, both the man and the woman are to be put to death”
Leviticus 20:12 states that “If a man has sexual relations with his daughter-in-law, both of them are to be put to death.” Verse 13 follows by saying that “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, they are to be put to death.” Verse 14 states that “If a man marries both a woman and her mother, both he and they must be burned in the fire.” Verse 15 then says that “If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he is to be put to death.” Finally, in verse 27, also states “that the medium or spiritist must be stoned to death.”
The scriptures above are more serious sins, and God’s final judgment is for the offenders to be killed. Note that the degree of judgment in the situations below is quite different. I didn’t notice the difference when I first started reading the Bible, but after the woman shared her perspective this week, I noticed that there was a distinct difference in the level and intensity.
Verse 17 says that “If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, they are to be publicly removed from their people.” What does “publicly removed” mean? Does it refer to killing? I do not believe it refers to killing, but rather cutting him out from the people or community. The following verse says that “If a man has sexual relations with a woman during her monthly period, both of them are to be cut off from their people.” From here, we can presume that maybe what it’s saying is to be cut off from Israeli traffic.
The next sin seems to be at another level. Verse 19 says, “Do not have sexual relations with the sister of either your mother or your father, or else both will be held responsible.”, but it did not specify here what punishment in particular. Verse 20 follows with “If a man has sexual relations with his aunt, he has dishonored his uncle. They will be held responsible; they will die childless.”. In other words, they can still live in Israel but will no longer able to pass on the family name. Verse 21 states that “If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; they will also be childless. This is a filthy thing.” John the Baptist once blamed Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. I assumed that it was because of verse 21. But the Bible also explicitly mentions that his brother died, and his younger brother should marry his elder brother’s wife and give birth and establish an heir for his elder brother.
By reading this passage, I believe that it is clear it mentions the wife of the brother-in-law not because of the death of his elder brother, but because his brother was still alive when Herod married his brother’s wife.
After stating these various crimes and their corresponding punishments, Jehovah said that the reason He did not allow the Israelites to commit them was that the Canaanites had done this before, leading Jehovah to despise them. At this time, Jehovah once again mentions God’s promise of giving them the land of milk and honey and declares that He’s the God of Israel and has made Israel a separated nation.
Verse 25 states that “You must, therefore, make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground–those that I have set apart as unclean for you.” In verse 26, it says “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.”
The question raised by the woman at the beginning of our study showed that she did not understand what “sanctification” really meant. She looked for other Chinese translations on the Internet and found the word “self-cleaning.”
I told her that it was a very good question. Often, when we are reading the Bible and come across unanswered questions, we feel disturbed. It is very likely that the Holy Spirit is going to answer our questions, but He answered it through a question raised by one member. We must pay attention to this as the Holy Spirit often uses this type of question to provide us with timely answers.
What is sanctification or self-cleaning? Understanding this contains a very important spiritual and practical significance for Christians today who are living in an era of controversial issues such as homosexuality and abortion. If we understand this concept, it will greatly influence our understanding and application of God’s law. If we misunderstand, misinterpret, and misapply God’s law, it will cause a series of difficulties.
As we are not in a hurry to answer this question, let’s first consider another question. Why did God ask Noah to bring seven pairs of clean animals and unclean animals into the ark? We can imagine that the flood had wiped out a lot of people and animals, but have you ever thought that since God had sent the flood to destroy the entire world of humankind and beasts, why not just let Noah bring clean animals to the ark and leave the unclean ones? If that is the case, wouldn’t it be an extinction of unclean animals? Wouldn’t that be that a good thing?
This question is not difficult to answer. Imagine the vision that God gave to Peter. When God called Peter to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, he saw that there was a variety of unclean animals in Tabriz and commanded him to slaughter them. But Peter refused, he said that he had never eaten these impure or unclean animals before. But Jesus said that “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15). This story shows that if Noah had not brought unclean animals to the Ark at that time, the vision would not have happened. The answer to the earlier question is that there is a process of making something unclean, clean.
Abraham was originally an Aramean who lived in idolatry, but God called him and the Israelites to sanctification or cleaning to make them holy to be a sacrifice to God. They had gone through the process of being unclean to clean. Similarly, under the grace of God, God also gives a clean process to other unclean people. If God had not provided a process when Abraham lived beyond the Euphrates River and was involved in idol worship, God could have killed him or cut him off, but God did not do that. Instead, God called him. Thus, Abraham became clean from unclean.
In addition to undergoing the process of being unclean to clean, God has different requirements for clean and unclean people. In other words, judgment begins at the house of God. The people who are part of God’s family are those cleaned by God. If they do unclean things, they will be severely punished and disciplined by God. For those who are not yet clean, or who have not yet known Jesus Christ, God’s mercy triumphs over judgment.
If you understand this truth and think about the words of Jesus: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45), it will become very meaningful. It is not that God doesn’t differentiate between good and evil; He gives the “wicked and evil” time to become “good and just.” Words such as good and bad, and good and evil are not good spiritual vocabulary and, therefore, are easily misunderstood. We can replace good or evil people with the words clean or unclean.
God’s words in the Bible, even the law, have different contexts and intended audiences. We cannot generalize it. We must cut straight the truth under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. First, God has different treatments and approaches regarding people and sins. Second, God’s demands, as well as how He handled the time period for the Israelis and Gentiles, are also not the same.
Romans tells us that God used the law to judge the Israelites. Although the Gentiles have no law, they are a law unto themselves (their conscience is the work of the law). Romans 2:11-12 NIV says: “For God does not show favoritism. All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” This part is well-written. God does not favor people. Whether it’s the Israelites who are holy to God, or the Gentiles who are not holy to God (here is the Canaanites), the crime is to be judged, and the capital punishment is death. This is beyond doubt. However, this is not the focus of our discussion here.
What we are discussing here is the scope and application of the law and the limitations that we have on law. It is essential for us to understand how to be spiritual Israelites in this fallen society today.
God asks the Israelites and the people that are saved today to be the salt of the earth so that the Gentiles can witness God Himself. To make us more holy and to manifest God more, some laws or moral requirements have been put forward. When we manifest God, and when these Gentiles or sinners become attracted to God, He will continue to let them sanctify themselves to fulfill God’s requirement – holiness.
God never imposed these laws or moral requirements on the Gentiles. This is why, when Jesus came to earth, he treated the tax collectors, prostitutes, and Pharisees in a completely different way. The attitude of the Pharisees is that these people are sinners and unclean, therefore, cannot come close to God and His presence; the attitude of Jesus, on the other hand, is that these people are sinners, and He should be a friend to them first in order to show God to them. After seeing God’s manifestation, they will know God and see salvation. The power of salvation will lead them further to the path of cleansing and sanctification.
I am not saying that the law of God does not apply to the Gentiles and sinners. What I mean is that Christians should not use the law to condemn others or distance them from God.
Let me give a simple example. One of the hot topics discussed in the US is about abortion and homosexuality. We Christians should hate the sin and love the sinner. But we often failed to show love to the people who are sinners.
When Jesus came to Earth, he did not keep some laws such as the law of the Sabbath. He healed the people and let the disciples gather ears of wheat on the Sabbath day. The first thing He took into consideration was to treasure the people and make them feel the love of God, and for them not to simply obey the law for the sake of obeying. But in stark contrast to Jesus, some Pharisees kept the law for the law. Their concern was the law and not the people. Therefore, Jesus condemned them, saying “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27).
I firmly believe that the responsibility of Christians today is not to have moral judgment but to have “self-sanctification” or “self-cleaning.” When we put our focus on this goal, we will be able to reflect God’s glory, and we will gradually transform and become the image of Christ. People will naturally see the manifestation of God in us, leading them to have feelings of conviction and repentance.
When we are judging people’s mistakes and failures before our very eyes, it is very easy for us to put ourselves in the wrong position and treat ourselves as Gods in judging them. But God clearly tells us in the Bible that “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.”(James 4:12). God will judge everyone, and Paul also tells us that since Gentiles have no law, conscience acted as their law.
I mentioned during the meeting that many people are so eager to judge others. But if they look inside themselves to see if they have fulfilled God’s requirements of being holy, they will find that they are far from meeting it. It’s easy to judge others, but it’s difficult to be holy.
I am not against Christians, maintaining the basic standard of morality in society or against anyone to oppose the continuous moral decline in society. My point is that if Christians can pay more attention to the righteousness in themselves and rely more on the light and grace of God to live out the reality of the law, we will be able to change the current situation of moral degradation, and this will lead to better results.
To know the level of morality in the world is a manifestation of the cleanliness and spirituality of Christians and churches before God. The root of the degradation of morality in society is the church, not the unbelievers. If we only think about how to correct people’s behavior and not change what we have inside, then we are doing things in the wrong order.