It’s graduation time when parents will be enduring long graduation ceremonies for a glimpse of their sons and daughters walking across a stage to receive a diploma or degree certificate. The last graduation ceremony I attended was for a dear friend receiving his Ph.D. certificate. After many years of ministry in his home country of Uganda, he earned his doctorate in Christian counseling. I was thrilled for him and told those sitting near me how proud I was to have him as a friend. Belonging to the same family in Christ meant everything to us. During years of separation, while he was in Uganda and I was in other countries, our bond never faltered. He lived the Bible, appreciating Christ’s holy calling, and mentored young men to do the same. My friend has since passed away, but we’re still in the same family, to be reunited when Christ returns. Perhaps you’ll attend a graduation for a child—I’ll just bet when they walk across the stage, you’ll proudly say, “That’s my son or daughter!” At that moment, all your children’s disobedience and disappointments will take a back seat to your joy in their accomplishments. The rules they broke while living under your roof may have called for some harsh penalties, but here is a fresh start. In this less-than-perfect illustration, we have a picture of Israel’s belonging to God. The Lord called Israel “his people,” “his treasured possession,” and “chosen.” The Old Testament is about God’s relationship with his people and their blessedness, based on his expectations, rules, and plans for them. The Lord called His people to faithful obedience by being different from the pagan nations, establishing His holy boundaries to bless His people and those they witnessed to. He desired that the pagan nations would take note and seek him based on Israel’s biblical conduct and lifestyle. And, now, we who are followers of Jesus Christ are called to love God’s boundaries, love others, and demonstrate our holy sanctification through our devotion to living biblically. One day, we will “graduate,” when Christ returns and we are raised and transformed in glory. But for now, we are called to obey because we belong to Christ.
“I am the Lord.”
The phrase, “I am the Lord,” appears twenty-five times in Leviticus 18-20. “Up to this point in Leviticus, most of the laws have focused on the tabernacle…Chapters 18-20 now turn to matters related more broadly to living as a kingdom of priests in the Promised Land. Leviticus 18 and 20 focus on the unholy practices of the land’s inhabitants that must be avoided, while Leviticus 19 addresses unholy practices to be avoided as well as holy practices to perform. If the Israelites obey the Lord in these things, they will prove themselves to be his holy people and will enjoy life under his favour and blessing.” (1) “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 18:1-5) “The Bible regularly connects obeying the Lord’s commands with living in the sphere of his favour. This is because his commands are like the borders of his kingdom, and those who stay within those borders proclaim their allegiance to him as King and remain within the sphere of his blessing. It is crucial to understand that [these verses do] not mean the Israelites were to earn relationship with the Lord through their obedience. The larger context makes clear that the Lord gives the Israelites the law after he redeemed them. The law regulates this relationship; it does not create it. As in the New Testament, relationship with the Lord is always grounded in his gracious redemption. Naturally, as in any relationship, faithfulness to the other parties is necessary in order to continue in fellowship with them, a point Jesus himself emphasizes (John 14:21; 15:1-6, 10). But such faithfulness is never seen as a way to gain relationship with the Lord; it is always seen as a right response to the gracious Lord who has rescued his people and given them his law, that they might walk in fellowship with him and reflect his good and holy character in all the earth.” (2)
“I am the Lord your God.”
“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.” (Leviticus 18:26-30) “There were certain practices in Egypt and Canaan that were forbidden to the Israelites. These practices fall into two main camps: illicit sexual activities and illicit worship practices..” (3) “God did not call His people to legalism; He miraculously delivered His people from slavery, He graciously set them free, and He called them into a loving relationship with Himself. As part of that relationship He gave them laws to guide them so they could enjoy life…The apostle Paul stated this truth beautifully in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11…Followers of Jesus still commit sins, but as one preachers said, people who know Jesus lapse into sin and loathe it, and people without Jesus leap into sin and love it…We are spiritual beggars just like every sinner; the only difference is that we…have found [Christ’s] forgiveness, the eternal life He gives, the truth and guidance of His Word, and the power of His Holy Spirit… God’s laws protect our happiness, and they protect the innocent and the vulnerable. We praise Him for that. We praise Him that His law shows us our sin. We praise Him for His grace in Christ that forgives our sin and sets us free. We praise Him that one day we will be in His presence forever where no sin exists.” (4)
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”
“God reminded His people that He is God. He is making sure that they would have no doubt who is in charge—the God of the universe was giving these rules. He is the authority. Authority is a fundamental issue in our culture today. Who determines what is right and wrong. When we hear a command, its authority in our lives is determined by who gives the command. If I am walking down a sidewalk and somebody behind me shouts, ‘Freeze! Put your hands behind your head!’ I check immediately to see who is shouting. If the person behind me is a policeman, he has the authority to give that command and demand compliance. So I hope he is shouting at someone else, not me. A command has authority if the one who gives it has authority…For many people, their authority is personal opinion. Every individual decides for herself or himself what is right and wrong…Another source of authority…is the opinion of the majority, or law. We submit to the standards of the society in which we live…[But] We need a source of authority that transcends societal changes and personal opinions, an authority that protects the weak and the innocent. We need God’s transcendent authority. For the people of God, the issue of authority has been settled—our authority is God, and He has expressed His will in His Word, the Bible…Followers of Jesus cannot waver on our source of authority. Our authority is God’s Word.” (Mosley, 18:1-5) “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy…You shall keep my statutes… I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:1, 36-37) “The Lord’s unmatched moral purity and love sets him apart as distinct. It is this moral purity and love that the Israelites have been set apart to embody in the Lord’s world, demonstrating his character to all who watch…In short, holiness is not restricted to ‘religious’ matters: all of life is a stage on which holiness is to be lived out…the Lord makes clear that his people will live holy lives by imitating him…The Lord makes clear that his commands for holy living cover all aspects of life. It is especially noteworthy how many of these commands relate to interactions with other people…Holiness is manifest in relationships characterized by integrity, honesty, faithfulness, and love’. Simply stated, holiness becomes real as we live out the Lord’s love to others.” (5)
“I am the Lord who sanctifies you.”
The Lord called His people to faithful obedience by being different from the pagan nations, establishing His holy boundaries to bless His people and those they witnessed to. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to loathe sin, love others, and demonstrate our holy sanctification through our devotion to living biblically. “How do we grow in holiness or sanctification?… It happens through His power in us. In John 17:17, Jesus did not pray that we would be better people in our own strength; He prayed to God the Father, ‘Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.’ God sanctifies us…When God works in us so that we are holy and we live out that holiness in the way we behave, inevitably we will relate to people differently…Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and love people…Where do we get the power to obey God’s command to love? Romans 5:5 says, ‘God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.’ That’s another way God makes us holy. He pours His holy love into our hearts.” (6) “I am the Lord who sanctifies you……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 20:8, 26) “The penalties [in chapter 20] were meant to teach the Israelites at least three principles. First, sin is a serious matter. These laws came from the King of heaven, who had created this world and shoe in it to display and experience his kingdom of love, justice and goodness. This is why breaking his law is so serious; it is treason against the King, as well as violence against the love, justice and goodness he intends for his creation. Second, sin among the Lord’s people must be addressed. They are the King’s ambassadors to the world. If the ambassadors fail in their duties, the King’s message is never heard, leaving the nations with no testimony to their gracious Creator. Third, those continuing in sin will experience the Lord’s justice. Even if the people of God fail to discipline unfaithful covenant members, the Lord himself will ensure that the discipline happens. As Paul would later say, ‘Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows’ (Gal. 6:7). Of course, these penalties were never God’s intent for humanity, whom he created to experience his favour and blessing as they walk in close fellowship with him in this ways. Such blessing and relationship now come to those who heed Jesus’ calls to enter into the yoke with him, learning from him how to walk in God’s ways and thus finding rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28-30). (7) “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
Related Scripture: Exodus 19:4-6; 20:2; 26:13; Deuteronomy 4:5-8; 7:6; 22:9-11; 30:15-16, 19-20; 2 Kings 16:1-4; 17:17-18; Nehemiah 9:28-29; Psalm 106:34-45; Isaiah 62:12; Jeremiah 16:17-18; Ezekiel 20:9-11; John 14:21; 15:10-11; 1 Corinthians 5:1-2; 16:19-20; Galatians 5:7, 14; 6:7; 1 Timothy 1:8-10; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 2:3.
1. Sklar, Jay, Leviticus, An Introduction and Commentary, Leviticus 18-20, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, IVP Academic, 2014.
2. Sklar, Ibid.
3. Sklar, Ibid.
4. Moseley, Allen, Exalting Jesus in Leviticus, Chapter 18, Christ-Centered Exposition Series, B&H Publishing Group, 2015.
5. Sklar, Ibid.
6. Mosley, Chapter 19, Ibid.
7. Sklar, Ibid.
May 25, 2023