How fast do you drive? Do you do the speed limit? A little above? A little below (God forbid)? I used to speed boldly, around 10-15 miles above the speed limit because there are no cops on this road, so who cares? Then I got pulled over. Then I got pulled over again. I got really expensive tickets both times. At first I was pissed – the punishment didn’t fit the crime! I didn’t think it was fair of the police to charge me so much money, or to lie in wait, or to ignore the fact that everyone else was driving just as fast. Eventually, though, I relented and started driving more carefully. After all, being late to work is never as expensive as a speeding ticket.
Speaking of crimes and punishments, this chapter of Leviticus makes me wonder how things might be different if the laws of the Israelites’ theocracy were put in place today. Maybe the consequences of a speeding ticket would be more severe. Severe is the word that comes to my mind while reading this chapter. Several sins are mentioned, most of them sexual in nature, and the punishments for them are all either being cut off from society, dying childless, being burned alive, or being put to death. It certainly makes you squirm. Times are different now, because we live under a democracy. Still, the God who created these laws hasn’t changed. How do we deal with this?
The Treasures Within:
A Dictator God –
I don’t know about you, but these laws make me uncomfortable. It’s not the commandments themselves – I don’t have any desire to curse my parents, commit adultery with someone’s husband, or try to communicate with the dead. It’s the punishments. So many questions come up as the chapter goes on. Do the punishments really fit these crimes? Did someone who married a woman and her daughter really deserve to be burned alive (verse 14)? Did having sex while a woman is on her period really warrant exile (verse 18)? Why do similar sins get different punishments? How come having sex with your aunt, sister, or sister-in-law was punished with only childlessness or exile (verses 17, 20, 21), but having sex with your daughter-in-law or mother-in-law meant you would be put to death (verses 11, 12)? Why were these sins punished so immediately? What if someone made a mistake? Why wasn’t there mercy?
What about today? What about the sins we commit now? If this chapter is any indication, God will punish us, withdraw from us, allow us to suffer, and eventually kill us for not following His laws. It almost hurts to say those words. They feel strict, rigid. Unfeeling. They tell us that we have lost our freedom, and in the worst way, because the other option is death. They tell us that there is only one way to live, if we want to live at all. There is one inflexible code that dictates our life. This is restraining. It’s frightening. It’s uncomfortable.
– Or a Moral God?
So what’s the alternative to this system? Reject all morals and laws? Do whatever strikes our fancy because we’re going to die anyway? I think that sometimes that’s how we as Christians stylize the life of those who don’t believe in God, but that’s not true. Morality does not have its source in these laws and these laws alone. We all believe in right and wrong. When we say that something isn’t fair, or stand up for justice, we are exercising our morals. The only problem is that our morality is different from God’s morality and that freaks us out. And rightly so. The idea of losing your life because you did something that was fun and completely harmless is awful. And at the very least, it’s absolutely ridiculous.
But we still believe in right vs wrong. We point at rapists and child molesters, serial killers and corrupt politicians, mass shooters and racists and we call them evil. We want them to be punished. Some of us want them to die. Some of us want them to be exiled into a lifelong prison sentence. For those people to get what they deserve, to experience the consequences of their actions is right to us. It’s just. It’s moral.
I stopped feeling mad about my speeding tickets when I realized that I was in the wrong. It didn’t matter how skilled I thought I was – all it would have taken was one unexpected movement and I could have killed myself or someone else. The punishment fit the crime. And that’s the point that God is trying explain to us – the punishment of death absolutely fits the crime of sin. It’s the smallest bit of selfishness that grows into a corrupt society that takes from the poor and gives to the rich. It’s the smallest bit of dislike that grows into racists, sexists, and incels. It was the smallest bite of the forbidden fruit, the tiniest moment of disobedience that started mankind down this path of sin. Every bit of suffering we have ever borne or ever will bear is directly caused by sin. God wants to punish that crime with death. It fits.
God’s Message To Us:
“Keep my laws. Please.” If you could pull up a list of all the sins I’ve committed, including the repeat sins, you’d be reading for the next decade or so. But I’m still alive. I haven’t paid the wages for my sins. If you’re reading this, then neither have you. We’re so self-obsessed that we take this to mean that we’re not really that bad after all. The truth is that God does not want us to die. We’re still here. That’s because, if we accept His plea deal, we don’t have to pay the wages for our sins. We don’t have to pay any wages. God’s Son already did that, years ago, for everyone who has ever lived. It was severe. It was uncomfortable. It was horrifying. But He did it. He knows better than anyone the full horror of the crime of sin. He knows better than anyone how strictly and rigidly we have to avoid it. So why don’t we listen to Him? Why don’t we obey Him? Why don’t we accept His gift and allow His love to pull us away from sin and into a new life?
What do you think? How do God’s laws and punishments in this chapter make you feel? What message did God put in this chapter for you?