Separated: Leviticus 20:17-27

The catalogue of sexual incontinence continues, though penalties diminish from capital threats to banishment, barren-ness, or loss of prosperity as the chapter continues. Some half-sibling incest, or sex with a woman ‘in her infirmity’ results in being cut off from the people, but not killed.

The punishments for relationships with uncles, aunts, and in-laws run to barrenness, not even exile, let alone death. Surely just as the capital punishments were hard to justify, this wishy-washy softness on some incestuous relationships is unjustifiably lenient!

The argument is now tied to the land. God gives the promised land, and allows the Hebrew people to displace the Canaanites, on condition that they keep the land holy and keep themselves as a people holy, apart from the other peoples. They are to separate the clean and unclean beasts and birds, and keep holy, or the land will spew them out.

I am more struck this time through Leviticus with the ecological understanding of the land. It is to be given Sabbath rest, and sabbatical, and jubilee relief – not just the people, but the land itself is given the benefit of this covenant. Watch for the threats in a couple of weeks, at the end of Leviticus, about exile of the people from the land, giving it Sabbath rest that they failed to provide.

The closing, floating verse at the end gives us stoning, putting to death, and bloodguilt once more for anybody messing with those other spirits.

Again, the literary setting and conceit is that the law comes to Moses in the desert, before the Promised Land. The continuing history is that at least after the Assyrians conquered Israel in the north around 750BC, and the Babylonians Judah in the south around 600BC, if not before, most Jews most of the time were not in the land, not able to be set apart to be holy.

So what does it mean, to get apart and be holy as God is holy, to claim just deserts, to avoid punishment, when we are not a moving caravan theocracy or Solomon’s united kingdom? Language is not all referential. It’s differential.

Leviticus 20:17-27

17 If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of their people; he has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, he shall be subject to punishment.

18 If a man lies with a woman having her sickness and uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare her flow and she has laid bare her flow of blood; both of them shall be cut off from their people.

19 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister or of your father’s sister, for that is to lay bare one’s own flesh; they shall be subject to punishment.

20 If a man lies with his uncle’s wife, he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness; they shall be subject to punishment; they shall die childless.

21 If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity; he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.

22 You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them, so that the land to which I bring you to settle in may not vomit you out.

23 You shall not follow the practices of the nation that I am driving out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them.

24 But I have said to you: You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am the LORD your God; I have separated you from the peoples.

25 You shall therefore make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; you shall not bring abomination on yourselves by animal or by bird or by anything with which the ground teems, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean.

26 You shall be holy to me; for I the LORD am holy, and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine.

27 A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned to death,their blood is upon them.