To an American in the 20th century, slavery is but a bad memory, an evil which pricks the conscience of society. There are still many of the scars left from the time when slavery was practiced, but the evil itself is something largely recorded in the history books. Such is not the case in other parts of the world, and it surely was not so in the ancient Near East at the time Moses wrote the Book of Leviticus.
As we approach our text and the subject of slavery we must recognize that we do so with a bias. Unlike the peoples of the ancient world, to whom slavery was a fact of life, a condition which could be either good or bad, depending upon the master, we can think of slavery only in negative terms. We think of the evils of slavery in our own country in days gone by, or in terms of the oppression of people in South Africa, evils which I do not wish to minimize or to condone. But because of the abuses of slavery we have come to look upon slavery as a categorical evil, one that can never be good or beneficial to the slave.
It is this bias which must be set aside if we are to appreciate what is being taught in the latter portion of the Book of Leviticus. The laws which the Israelites are given in chapters 18-20 (and the following chapters as well) are those which are legitimate and compulsory because the Israelites are God’s slaves and He is their new master. Such a condition cannot be viewed as evil, but as holy, righteous and good. Such a state cannot be wrong, and thus we must view it differently from most of the slavery which has been practiced (or imposed) in history.
The Israelites had been the slaves of Pharaoh. We know this all too well from the early chapters of Exodus. Some might think that when the Israelites passed through the Red Sea and the Egyptians passed under it, that slavery was ended once for all for the people of God. Such was not the case at all. The exodus freed the Israelites from bondage to Egypt, but it also brought them under the yoke of their God, who had delivered them.
As God’s slaves, the Israelites were not free to live where they wished, nor to live as they liked. These people were now to live under a new order. That order was spelled out by the terms of the covenant which God, Israel’s new King, made with them. We call it the Mosaic Covenant. The Ten Commandments, along with the rest of the Law, is a part of that covenant. The priestly system, outlined in the early chapters of Leviticus, is also a part of the Mosaic Covenant. And now, the judgments and statutes93 which God is about to lay down through Moses, are the expression of the dictates of a sovereign over his subjects.
The preamble to the latter half of the Book of Leviticus is vitally important to the Israelites because it deals with their motivation for obeying the laws which God is going to lay down in the following chapters. I would suggest that motivation is the most important factor involved in obedience. We may learn methods which help us to obey, but apart from a will to obey they are worthless.
Motives are critically important in our own lives, thousands of years removed from the days of Moses and the people whom he led. We are inclined to think, at times, that evangelism does not occur because people have not been taught how to evangelize. We suppose that marriages are in deep trouble because they have not been taught proper techniques for dealing with marriage problems. Methods and techniques have their place, but the real reason why we disobey God, why we fail to evangelize, why we do not relate to our mates and to our children as we should is because we do not want to do so. The old saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” is largely true. Thus, one of the most important factors in godly living is godly motives. Leviticus 18:1-5 provides the people of Israel with the proper motivation for obeying God’s laws. These motives, as we shall see, are also found in the New Testament, and thus they apply to us as well. Let us listen well to the voice of God in this text, for these are words of great import to our spiritual lives.
Let us bear in mind that as we come to this 18th chapter of Leviticus we are beginning a new division of the book. Chapters 1-17 have largely applied to the priests, while chapters 18 and following are directed more toward the people. Chapters 1-17 pertained more to ceremonial or ritual righteousness; chapters 18 and following pertain to practical righteousness. In particular, chapters 18-20, which we will study as a unit, pertain to righteousness in the home (chapter 18), and in the community (chapters 19). Chapter 20 deals with “capital offenses.”94
Scholars have recently recognized that the form of the Mosaic Covenant is similar to the form of those covenants made in the ancient Near East in the days of the Moses. This is especially clear in Exodus and Deuteronomy. It is also apparent here in chapter 18:
In chapter 18 the preamble is I am the Lord your God (2), while the historical prologue is the phrase Egypt, where you dwelt (3). The basic stipulation is covered by the injunction do my ordinances and keep my statutes and walk in them (4), while the detailed stipulations comprise the material in verses 6 to 23. The blessings occur in a shortened form in verse 5, a man shall live, while the curses are found in verses 24 to 30. This latter situation is typical of Hittite vassal treaties, where the curses always greatly outnumber the blessings.95
Verses 1-5 thus serve as the preamble to the stipulations, the regulations which are to follow. In this message I wish to focus on the message of the preamble, for it is the basis for the laws which are to be given and of God’s demand that they be kept. In verses 1-5 one phrase is repeated three times: “I am the LORD (your God).” The importance of this statement can hardly be overemphasized. It provides us with a vital clue to the structure of this paragraph. Three crucial statements are made, each of which is concluded with the statement, “I am the LORD (your God).”
The message of these verses can best be viewed as having three principle statements. The first is the premise (v. 2), the basis which God declares for what He will demand. The second is the practical outworking of the premise stated both negatively: “You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes” (18:3), and positively: “You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them” (18:4). The third states the benefits of obedience, a promise of God’s blessing: “‘So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them’” (18:5).
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘I am the LORD your God.’”
The expression, “I am the LORD your God,” is the fundamental truth on which the following verses, and on which the following chapters must stand. The critical question for us, then, is to determine precisely what God meant by this expression.
When God had led the Israelites out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and to Mt. Sinai, He made a covenant with His people. The Ten Commandments, a vital part of that covenant, are first recorded in Exodus chapter 20. In the introduction of the covenant, God spoke these familiar words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exod. 20:2).
When the Mosaic Covenant was reiterated to the next generation virtually the same words were employed in the introduction (cf. Deut. 5:6).
In Leviticus, the same expression is found, particularly in close proximity to divine regulations. Thus, in chapter 11, it is found in conjunction with the laws concerning the clean and the unclean (Lev. 11:44). When the stipulations of the covenant are spelled out in more precise form, the same words are found in the introduction (Lev. 18:1-5), no less than three times. The expression in either its long (e.g. 18:2, 4) or its short form (18:5) will be found frequently in chapters 18-20 (18:2, 4, 5-6, 30; 19:3-4, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 25, 30, 31, 32, 34, 37; 20:7, 24) and later (21:12; 22:2-3, 8, 30-31, 33; 23:22, 43; 24:22; 25:17, 38; 26:1, 2, 13, 44).
From the many uses of the expression, “I am the LORD (your God),” we can discern several facets to its intended meaning:
First, the expression is intended to recall the deliverance of Israel from her bondage in Egypt. The expression, “I am the LORD your God” is sometimes followed by a further statement, “who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (cf. Exod. 20:2). Israel’s deliverance is thus one thought which is brought to remembrance by this expression.
Second, the expression is one that declares God’s sovereignty, particularly focused upon His sovereignty over His people. The exodus showed God to be superior to the gods of Egypt, and to be sovereign over the forces of nature. Israel’s God is a sovereign God. The God of Israel is not only viewed as sovereign over His people, but over the Egyptians (including Pharaoh) and nature. You will recall that when Moses delivered this message from God, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me,” Pharaoh’s response was, in effect, “Say’s who?” Pharaoh thought of himself as sovereign. Why, then, should he obey Israel’s God. The account of the ten plagues is God’s answer. And the passing through the Red Sea also demonstrated God’s power (sovereignty) over nature (which can also be seen in the plagues). The exodus thus proved God’s sovereignty.
Third, the exodus event made God Israel’s King. God was the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before the exodus, but after this event He became Israel’s king. He became king when He liberated His people and led them from Egypt toward Canaan. He became King of Israel when He gave the people the constitution, the Mosaic Covenant. The “Song of the Sea,” recorded in Exodus 15, is the song which the Israelites sang to God in praise after the incident at the Red Sea. The inference of this song is that God has been installed as their king (cf. v. 18). The exodus made God King of His people.
Fourth, the expression is also a claim of divine ownership. Just as the Israelites were the slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt,96 now they are God’s slaves. Later in the Book of Leviticus, God told Moses, “‘For the sons of Israel are My servants; they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God’” (Lev. 25:55; cf. also v. 42).
To draw all of these various factors together into one central thought we can conclude that the expression, “I am the LORD your God,” teaches the principle of possession. To put the matter pointedly, God has the right to rule over His people. If God has the right to rule then He also has the right to make the rules. So it is that this statement, “I am the LORD your God,” precedes the regulations which God gave His people.
God has the right to rule, and thus the right to make the rules. These rules will be spelled out in great detail in the verses and chapters which will follow, but for now the essence of what God commands is summarized, both negatively and positively in verses 3 and 4. Let us briefly consider both the negative and the positive implications of God’s sovereign ownership of His people, Israel.
Negatively, the Israelites are to avoid the ways (statutes) of the Egyptians, among whom they have lived, and the Canaanites, whose land they are about to possess:97 “‘You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes’” (Lev. 18:3).
The prohibition here includes Israel’s past, in the land of Egypt, and her future, in the land of Canaan. Broadly speaking, I think that two major areas are in view in this prohibition.
First, God’s prohibition includes not only the lifestyle of the Egyptians and the Canaanites, it also includes their laws. God told the Israelites not to walk in their “statutes” (v. 3). As I understand what God is saying, the ungodly lifestyle of the heathen often is reflected in ungodly legislation. Thus, for example, in Daniel’s day, as in Esther’s, the laws of the heathen clearly contradicted God’s laws. The Israelites were not to live according to the pagan lifestyles or the pagan legislation of the Egyptians or the Canaanites.
Second (and, I think, primarily), this prohibition involves the lifestyles of the Egyptians and the Canaanites. The terms “statutes” and “judgments” have a very formal sound to our ears, but that is not necessarily the sense in which they are used here. God prohibits “walking in the statutes” of the heathen, but He also prohibits “doing what is done” in Egypt and Canaan. In the Book of Ezekiel, reference is made to Leviticus 18:5 (Ezek. 20:11). Later on in the same chapter Ezekiel wrote, “And I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, or keep their ordinances, or defile yourselves with their idols. I am the LORD your God; walk in My statutes, and keep My ordinances, and observe them’” (Ezek. 20:18-19, emphasis mine). Here it would seem that the ordinances and statutes which the Israelites followed in the wilderness were simply their own ways, their traditional, sinful way of living, which was enforced by culture than by actual written law. While there were undoubtedly some laws of these nations which were evil, there were also many aspects of the Egyptian and Canaanite cultures which were evil as well. These will be seen by the kinds of evil which were forbidden in the next chapters of Leviticus. Included are the areas of marriage, sex, family practices, religion, social concern and ethics.
While the form of the covenant which God made with the Israelites was very similar to that of other kings in the ancient Near East, the substance of the stipulations of these covenants differed radically. God’s laws sometimes parallel those of the secular and pagan societies around them, but very frequently they surpass them in the high moral standards they uphold and require of God’s people.
Positively, the Israelites were to live in accordance with God’s statutes: “‘You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the LORD your God’” (Lev. 18:4). The laws which God is about to lay down—or should we say the laws which God is going to further clarify and apply—are to be lived by. The God who owns Israel and thus has the right to rule now commands His people to live by His commandments as opposed to the culture of the heathen.
The final “I am the LORD” comes at the end of verse 5, which contains a brief promise of the blessings which accompany living according to God’s laws: “‘So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD’” (Lev. 18:5). In concise terms God promised that obedience to His judgments and statutes caused a man to “live.” But what does it mean to “live”?
(1) To live means the preservation of one’s life, and the avoidance of death. Frequently, God’s commands have been accompanied with the warning, “lest you die” (cf. Exod. 28:35, 43; 30:20, 21; Lev. 8:35; 10:6, 7, 9; 15:31; 16:2, 13). To obey God’s laws kept one from incurring guilt and the death penalty of divine judgment.
(2) To live is to be the recipient of divine blessings.98 You will remember that the form of these verses follows that of the near eastern suzerainty-vassal treaties. We know from the form of these treaties that we can expect verse 5 to summarize the blessings of keeping this covenant. Thus, to live is not merely to survive, as suggested above, but to live in the blessings of God, with whom this treaty has been made.
One of the clearest definitions of “life” as it is used in Leviticus 18:5 is found in the Book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy the Mosaic Covenant is reiterated to the second generation of Israelites. In chapter 28 the “blessings and cursings” are outlined in detail. If the Israelites keep the law of God, they will be greatly blessed in the land (28:1-14); if they disobey and disregard the law, they will be greatly cursed (28:15-68). Then, in chapter 30, God spoke these words:
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I commanded you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it” (Deut. 30:15-16, emphasis mine).
“Life,” then, in this context is synonymous with God’s blessings in the land, and “death,” with the adversity which comes from God, including expulsion from the land.
The final paragraph in Leviticus chapter 18 (vv. 24-30) tends to support this conclusion. It stresses the fact that the sins of the Canaanites defiled the land and led to their expulsion. It also warns the Israelites that if they fail to live according to God’s laws they, too, will defile the land and thus be expelled from it. It is not until the conclusion of Leviticus that a clear statement of the blessings of obeying God’s laws are spelled out in greater detail:
‘If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land’ (Lev. 26:3-5, emphasis mine).
The promise of God’s blessing for obedience continues through verse 13, and then the promises of God’s cursing are detailed as the consequence for disobeying God’s laws (vv. 14-39). To “live,” then, means to enjoy the covenant blessings of God, and to “die” means to suffer the curses of the covenant which come upon God’s people as the consequence of their disobedience.
Since Leviticus 18:5 is cited several times (Luke 10:28; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12) in the New Testament, it is necessary for us to pause to reflect on the meaning of this verse as it is used in the Old Testament and in the New. It is my understanding that the New Testament writers who cited this verse did so out of a clear understanding of its original meaning, as well as its perversion by legalistic Judaizers.
We have already established that when God promised the Israelites they would “live” by keeping the statutes and judgments of the law, He referred to those blessings of prosperity in the land of promise, not the blessing of eternal life. The law was never given as a means to achieving eternal life. It was a temporary provision given to a sinful people to enable a holy God to dwell in their midst, and for them to dwell in the land of promise. The blessings which the law promised (prosperity in the land of promise) were bestowed upon those who obeyed all the law. The blessings of salvation are promised elsewhere, and not on the basis of works (obedience to the law), but on the basis of faith.
So it was that Abraham was called a believer before the law was ever given, and before he did any works. He did nothing but believe in the promises of God. This is the account given to us in Genesis chapter 15, and it is the point which Paul presses home in Romans chapter 4, proving that salvation has always been by faith, apart from the works of law-keeping. In Habakkuk 2:4 the principle of faith is once again reiterated. Thus salvation has always been on the basis of faith, not obedience to the law. “Life,” that is God’s blessings on His people in the land of Canaan, is the result of law-keeping.
When Paul cited Leviticus 18:5 in Galatians 3:12 he was not using the verse as God had meant it to be understood (that physical blessing in the land of promise was attained by law-keeping), but as the Judaizers whom he was refuting would interpret it. They taught that law-keeping was the way men were justified in the Old Testament, and now in the new age as well. Thus, the Gentile converts had to become Jewish proselytes and observe the Old Testament laws and their traditions (additions to the law) to boot. Paul referred to Leviticus 18:5 with this backdrop in view. If, as the Judaizers taught, men could be justified by works, then according to this interpretation of the law, men must keep all the law. The Judaizers thus understood “live” as justification, not as earthly blessings. Herein was their fundamental error, and Paul pressed this erroneous interpretation to its illogical and tragic conclusion: such a view demands that men must keep all the law if they are to live, or else the law serves to condemn, rather than to save.99
God has introduced the regulations which are to follow by (1) establishing His right to rule, and thus to make the rules; (2) spelling out in broad terms, negatively and positively, what these rules require; and, (3) promising to bless His people when they faithfully live by His rules.
From these first five verses of Leviticus chapter 18 the Israelites are provided with a strong sense of motivation for obedience. From these words, God’s people should take the commandments which will follow most seriously. God is their sovereign owner, their King, and thus He has the right to rule and to make the rules. If they fail to keep these commandments they will face His discipline; if they obey they will experience His blessings. If they obey, they will avoid the ways of the Canaanites and the Egyptians and will follow the ways God has prescribed.
One would suppose that the demands of God pertaining to Israel’s obedience would have little to do with the New Testament saint. Especially this might seem to be the case when we read Paul’s arguments in his epistles, especially that of Galatians chapter 3. It is true that we are not the nation Israel, nor is the Mosaic Covenant binding on us. Nevertheless, the principles found in this text in Leviticus are almost identical with those found in the New Testament, based upon the work of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant which He has inaugurated. Consider the principles of the New Testament which parallel those which we have seen in our study of our text in Leviticus.
If one were to boil down the message of verses 1-5 it is simply this: The Israelites were God’s slaves, and thus were obligated to obey. The “slavery” of the Israelites was based upon the sovereignty of God, and on God’s deliverance of this people from their bondage to Egypt.
The New Testament teaches us that those who are truly born again have ceased to be the slaves of sin and Satan and become slaves of righteousness, slaves of God:
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18).
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
We might be inclined to question our status as slaves on the basis of our Lord’s words to His disciples:
“You are My friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves; for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you … This I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:14-15, 17).
Has our Lord not indicated that the role of servant is extinct, and that now His followers are only His friends? Then Paul was sadly mistaken in referring to himself as Christ’s slave, as well as all saints. Notice that our Lord is still giving commands in the context of John chapter 15 (v. 17). This is what masters do to their slaves. The fact is that our Lord is simply indicating a change in the kind of slavery which the Christian enters into as a result of trusting in Him as Savior and Lord.
There are two ways in which our “slavery” to God differs from that of the Old Testament saint. First, we are slaves of a vastly greater privilege. While slaves normally are not privy to the intimate plans of their master, the disciples of our Lord are. Normally slaves are told what to do, but are never told what their master is doing, or why. In boot camp, new recruits are taught that they are the slaves of their superior officers. They are told to dig holes, and then to fill them, and they are not told why (indeed, there is no real reason, other than to teach obedience).
Up to this point in our Lord’s ministry, He had not fully disclosed to His disciples what He was doing. Now, He will disclose His most intimate plans and purposes to them. In this sense they are His friends, more than they are slaves. This does not mean that we are not slaves in any sense, however.
Second, the slavery of the New Testament saint to the Lord is voluntary, it is a bondage of love: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
There is a greater sense of compulsion in Leviticus than there is here. What I mean to say is that obedience in Leviticus comes from the top down, it is demanded. In the gospels, obedience is the response of love and gratitude to the grace of God: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God …” (Rom. 12:1). I do not mean to press this distinction too far, however, for the Israelites were to serve and obey God out of love and gratitude as well.
The Old Testament provides us with a picture of the “love slave,” which beautifully portrays the kind of slavery into which the Christian should voluntarily place himself. The slave who could have been freed, but chose to become a permanent slave had his ear pierced with an awl by his master (Exod. 21:5-6; Deut. 15:16-17). In this sense every Christian should have “pierced ears,” figuratively speaking.
Slavery is not a very popular subject amongst many contemporary Christians because it is contrary to the spirit of our age. Think about it for a moment. In the many different representations of what it means to be born again and to be converted, how many of these clearly portray God as the Sovereign Master of the Universe, to which the Christian is to submit, Whom he or she is to serve as a slave? Not many, I can assure you. More often, Jesus Christ is presented as the servant of men, the one who has come to make people feel better about themselves, to give them eternal life, and to answer their every prayer, more like a magic genie than a sovereign master.
The real issue here is that of authority—to be specific, God’s authority to rule His people. The reason why such emphasis is placed on the authority of God is because fallen man rebels against authority, especially God’s authority. God created Satan with great beauty and authority, but it was not enough for him, he wanted more, he wanted to be greater than God (cf. Isa. 14:13). Adam and Eve were created with great honor and authority, and yet they rebelled against God’s authority. Both rebelled against God’s rules and ate the forbidden fruit, hoping to be “like God,” as Satan had falsely promised (Gen. 3:5).
All through the Scriptures man has resisted God’s constituted authority. The Israelites rebelled against Moses and Aaron. Some of the people rebelled against David. Later, they rebelled against the prophets. Is it any wonder that the Jewish religious leaders, once they understood that the Lord Jesus was not going to follow their leadership, began to challenge His authority with the question, “By what authority …?” (e.g. Matt. 21:23). And when things began to get completely out of hand, they arrested Him and brought charges against Him. When they were forced to do so, these leaders said to Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
The awesome fact is that God has given Jesus Christ ultimate and final authority. In the great day of judgment which lies ahead, all men must fall before Him and acknowledge His authority:
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left” (Matt. 25:31-33).
Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).
Which will you be, my friend, one of the sheep or one of the goats? Will you be one who falls before the Lord as King as a willing worshipper, or will you fall as a subdued enemy, reluctantly acknowledging His authority and power? You must decide to accept Him as Savior and Lord now, and if you do not, you will remain a slave of sin and of Satan. If you have made excuses for not trusting in Christ as your Savior and Lord, my guess is that you have not admitted the real reason to yourself. It is not because there is a lack of evidence, but because of your rebellion against His authority.
If the Bible tells us anything, it is the Jesus Christ has the right to reign over men, and that someday He will reign over all men. Some will be His worshippers, while the rest will be His enemies, His defeated foes. I urge you to submit to His authority, and to trust in His shed blood for your forgiveness. Take Him as your Savior and your King. He has the right to rule.
Most of my readers will have already trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior. I would hope that you will also submit to Him as Lord. But what does this mean in very practical terms? This is a very profitable topic on which to meditate, but let me help begin the process by suggesting several ways in which we may express the kingship, the lordship of Jesus Christ:
(1) Those who have submitted to Christ as Lord will see that the slave-master relationship is appropriate in the light of who God is and who we are. They will understand that it is appropriate for the saint to view himself as God’s slave, and to view God as his master. This is but one practical application of the doctrines of the sovereignty of God and the depravity of men, of the infinity of God and of the finiteness of man.
(2) Second, those who have submitted to Christ as the Lord and King will pray for His kingdom to come to earth, as the Book of Revelation describes it in its full and final form. Our Lord taught His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
The Book of Revelation speaks much of the actual coming of this kingdom in days to come. The saints should be looking for this kingdom, and most of all for their King. In the meantime, the Lord’s slave will be seeking to extend His kingdom among men.
(3) Third, the Lord’s slave will not be as interested in his own concerns as with those of his Master. The parables which our Lord taught in the gospels teach the Lord’s slaves that they must be faithful to do their duty, even in His absence. They teach that obedience is to be expected, and that personal rewards should not be our primary concern: “So you too, when you do all things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’” (Luke 17:10).
(4) Fourth, the slave should be marked by his or her obedience to the Master.
(5) Fifth, the slave will find his identity in his master, and will look to Him for provision, protection, and praise.
We have shown that the same principles which were taught in Leviticus 18:1-5 are renewed in the New Testament. Just as Israel’s deliverance from Egypt constituted them God’s slaves, so our redemption from sin constitutes us God’s slaves. In both the Old Testament and the New the radical change from slavery to an evil master to that of bondage to God is signaled by baptism. In 1 Corinthians chapter 10 Paul speaks of the Israelites being “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:2). In Romans chapter 6, Paul speaks of baptism (I take it to be Spirit baptism, symbolized in water baptism) as that dividing line which signifies a radical break with the bondage of the past and an identification with and bondage to Christ.
It interesting to observe the significance of baptism in many parts of the world, if not in America. In some parts of the world it is not one’s accepting of Christ which alienates unbelieving parents and family, but baptism. This is because of what baptism implies. A parent can tolerate a child who professes faith in Christ. That, after all, is but a matter of the mind. But when the new believer takes that step of water baptism there is a commitment to make a clear break with the world and to continue to follow and obey Christ as one’s master. Thus, while a profession of faith is tolerated, baptism is vehemently opposed by unbelieving friends and family.
The baptism of a new believer is the testimony that the individual has died to sin in the death of Christ, and that he or she has also been raised to a new kind of life. Thus, at least in the ancient church, the old clothes were removed and new clothing was put on, symbolizing the change of lifestyle which our text in Leviticus requires, as well as the teaching of the New Testament.
As we conclude our service today, we are going to appropriately do so with the baptism of two believers, both of whom wish to give testimony to their faith in Christ, who died, was buried, and in three days was raised from the dead for their salvation. In addition they are giving testimony to their intention to live as slaves of Jesus Christ, leaving behind their old ways and living in obedience to the Word of God.
May I ask you if you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior? If so, have you also submitted to Him as your Lord, the one who has the right to make the rules and to expect you to keep them? This is not to obtain your salvation, but to express it in very practical ways. And, may I ask, have you taken that first step of obedience and been baptized?
93 Of the terms “statutes” and “ordinances” (“judgments,” NASB) Harrison writes, “The word huqqim (‘statutes’) comes from a root ‘to engrave,’ thus describing permanent behavioral rules prescribed by authority and recorded for the instruction and guidance of the individual or society. An ordinance (Heb. mispat) was a judicial decision arrived at by properly constituted authority or on the basis of tradition, which would serve as a precedent for the future guidance of judges under specific circumstances.” R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), pp. 184-185.
94 “Hertz argues that the order of the laws in chs. 18-20 is significant. These chapters set out ‘the foundation principles of social morality. The first place among these is given to the institution of marriage … the cornerstone of all human society. … Any violation of the sacred character of marriage is deemed a heinous offence, calling down the punishment of Heaven both upon the offender and the society that condones the offence.’” J. H. Hertz, Leviticus (The Pentateuch and Haftorahs) (London: Oxford UP, 1932), p. 172, as quoted by Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 250.
95 Harrison, p. 184.
96 It is interesting to read the account of Genesis 47:13-19 in relationship to the matter of the king owning the people. After the Egyptians ran out of “trading stock” to exchange for wheat, they said to Joseph, “Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we and our land will be slaves to Pharaoh. So give us seed, that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate” (Gen. 47:19). My point is simply that God prepared the way so that even the Egyptians were viewed as the property of Pharaoh. If this were so with the Egyptians, how much more so did Pharaoh think he possessed the Israelites, who were slaves? Thus, having been the possession of Pharaoh, the Israelites should not be shocked to learn they now belonged to God.
97 Note that here there is a forward look, not dealing so much with the immediate situation of the Israelites, but with their entrance into Canaan.
98 This seems to be the view of most commentators. Harrison, for example, writes, “The kind of life which the law brought would be one of divine blessing and material prosperity, consonant with the covenantal promises, but contingent always upon implicit obedience to the will of God.” Harrison, p. 185.
With this Wenham agrees: “For the OT writers life means primarily physical life. But it is clear that in this and similar passages more than mere existence is being promised. What is envisaged is a happy life in which man enjoys God’s bounty of health, children, friends, and prosperity. Keeping the law is the path to divine blessing, to a happy and fulfilled life in the present (Lev. 26:3-13; Deut. 28:1-14).” Wenham, p. 253.
99 Wenham writes: “This is not to say that the Christian accepts the interpretation placed on v. 5, ‘if a man does them, he will enjoy life through them,’ by some of Paul’s Pharisaic opponents. They argued that this showed that keeping the law brought man into a right relationship with God (Gal. 3:12; Rom. 10:5). Paul argued that keeping the law is the fruit of justification rather than the means of justification. His exegesis is more faithful to the original setting of Lev. 18:5. The law was given to the covenant people after their redemption from Egypt (v. 3), not as a moral hurdle they had to clear if they wished to be saved.” Wenham, pp. 260-261.