Today in our reading plan, we come to Leviticus 18-20.
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.
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. Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.(Leviticus 18:1-5 and 19:1-3 ESV)
The break in Leviticus between chapters 1-16 and chapters 17-27 is similar to the break in Ephesians between chapters 1-3 and chapters 4-6. Remember, in the first half of Ephesians Paul details the nature of our calling, telling us of all the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ. Then at the beginning of chapter 4 he tells us that we must walk in a manner worthy of that high calling.
Here in Leviticus, as in Ephesians, the rules and regulations are presented not as a way to gain God’s favor, but as a logical result of the nature of God, and the nature of our relationship to him. In each case, God first shows his great provisions for us, and the type of relationship he desires with us; only then does he give us rules to govern our behavior. Christian behavior results from a relationship with God; it is not a prerequisite to that relationship. Only God’s transforming power can enable us to live lives worthy of His calling.
Some of you may recall a story I used to illustrate this point when we first started studying Ephesians almost two years ago. Picture an American standing outside Buckingham Palace. Let’s call him Jerry. Jerry is dressed as your typical tourist: baggy shorts, sunglasses, a baseball cap, and a T-shirt. He’s snapping pictures of the changing of the guard. Suddenly, much to Jerry’s surprise, one of these big, gruff guards, approaches him. The imposing guard, his head topped off with a huge black felt hat, says, “Come with me!”
“What have I done?” asks Jerry. “Really, if I wasn’t supposed to take pictures you can have the camera!”
The guard refuses the camera and says, “The Queen has chosen you! You are to sit with the royal family!”
“But look my clothes! A Red Sox cap and a dirty Williams T-shirt! And how do I act at a royal dinner?”
“The Queen will provide you with fresh clothes, instructions in protocol, and — thankfully — a bath. Oh, and one more item: The Queen has decided that you are to be a joint heir with the Prince of Wales!”
“An heir! To the British crown? But my ancestors rebelled against the English monarchy!”
How will Jerry behave? What will he do, now that he is second in line to the British crown? If Jerry’s position is secure, if the Queen’s elevating of his position is irrevocable, then no matter how he acts he will maintain his position. His position does not depend on his behavior. But if Jerry takes to heart the gracious act of the Queen, if he truly understands the honor that she has conferred on him, if he knows his own unworthiness, then he will do his best to live a life worthy of this calling. He will learn all he can from the steward assigned to him; he will discard his Williams T-shirt and wear the clothes given to him; he will live his entire life praising the monarch for her grace to him, and living up to her standards.
Jerry does not have to live up to any set of rules to maintain his position as Prince. But he will be quite foolish and ungrateful to live in any way that he pleases.
The position of the Israelites here in Leviticus is quite similar to Jerry’s. Why did God choose the people of Israel as his? Not because there was anything special about them. Not because He knew they would be especially responsive. He chose them simply because he chose them. But he displayed his grace to them in order that they might become his own treasured possession, a people who would be devoted to him. To use New Testament terminology, God was beginning the process of creating a perfect bride for Christ.
God’s choice was not dependent on their behavior. But behavior is a logical consequence of God’s choice.