Leviticus 18:28–30 (HCSB)
28 If you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it has vomited out the nations that were before you. 29 Any person who does any of these detestable practices must be cut off from his people. 30 You must keep My instruction to not do any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you, so that you do not defile yourselves by them; I am Yahweh your God.”
This pericope is primarily concerned with improper sexual relations. It is a sweeping passage, which covers inappropriate sexual relations between family, both blood and non-blood relatives, a sole reminder concerning a woman during her menstrual cycle, sex with animals, and homosexuality. There is even a mention to avoid the pagan practice of child sacrifice, which seems out of place, but when we realize the passage is concerned with instructing the Israelites to avoid the practices of the pagans He will driving out, it makes sense.
It is worth noting that the list of sexual perversions are not simply rules to help people avoid possible birth defects that might arise from close blood lines reproducing. Many of the relations listed would not be blood related at all: adopted cousins (Lev 18:11), aunt-in-law (Lev 18:14), daughter-in-law (Lev 18:15), sister-in-law (Lev 18:16), any mother and daughter (Lev 18:17), and a neighbor’s wife (Lev 18:20). So we must assume then these prohibitions are not just practical health restrictions, but something more. It would seem that, considering the number of times “shame” is mentioned, that there is a holy righteousness that should be observed. It would seem that man should observe the purity of the relationship, which obviously should be a marital relationship, which God expects and the relationship should reflect. In addition, it seems likely that many of the scenarios listed would result in two additional problems: 1) a question of heredity if a woman were to become pregnant, and 2) the possibility of rivalry between siblings, family, and neighbors (this issue possibly being a result of the first as well).
Although the mentions are brief, we should not skip past the mentions of homosexuality, bestiality, and child sacrifice. All are perversions. Although the mention of homosexuality in Lev 18:22 is specific to male homosexuality, we would do well to do a full study on the issue to see that God’s prohibition does not end with just males. And although these three things receive nowhere near the number of verses previous, for the differing relations, I think it simply because the issues are straightforward. We, as people created in the image of God, should not need to be told in 5-10 verses that sacrificing our children is an abomination!
In the end, God holds up the people of Canaan, and of Egypt, as examples for Israel of what not to do. He has led them out of a corrupt society in Egypt, and will lead them into a land where He will remove a corrupt people. God’s expectation is for Israel to follow Him, to live righteously, and He is providing the example of the judgement that results from not doing so (Lev 18:25).
Lord, thank You for showing us Your ways, for laying out guidelines, not to restrict us, but to free us from the sinful shackles that bind us. I pray that we can loosen our grip on the sins, as hard and uncomfortable as that can be, that keep us from You, and grab hold of You, and Your glory, and cling to You. Amen.