Leviticus 18


‘The LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.’ Leviticus 18:1-5

Unlawful Sexual Relations

The 10 commandments had forbidden adultery, now the Law goes on to specify the various forms of sexual immorality which are forbidden in that general law. It includes such issues as incest as well as adultery and homosexuality. This chapter also prohibits the marrying of sister to brother etc, keeping it in the family.

The Israelites remember had been nomads and when they reach Canaan they are required to settle down and become farmers. The Canaanites taught them that their pagan ideals, concerning growing food, i.e. in order for the land to produce they had to practise immorality.

Israel as a nation had to learn to live different from the nations around them, their God wasn’t a fragment of their imagination, He was real, He was the God who brought them out of Egypt. Every aspect of their lives was to be governed by the will of God, God promised them if they continue to live according to God’s will, they would live well and prosper in the Promised Land.

‘No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD. ‘Do not dishonour your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her. ‘Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonour your father. ‘Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere. ‘Do not have sexual relations with your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter; that would dishonour you. ‘Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father’s wife, born to your father; she is your sister. ‘Do not have sexual relations with your father’s sister; she is your father’s close relative. ‘Do not have sexual relations with your mother’s sister, because she is your mother’s close relative. ‘Do not dishonour your father’s brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations; she is your aunt. ‘Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son’s wife; do not have relations with her. ‘Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife; that would dishonour your brother. ‘Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness. ‘Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living. ‘Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period. ‘Do not have sexual relations with your neighbour’s wife and defile yourself with her. ‘Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. ‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. ‘Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.’ Leviticus 18:6-23

Unlawful Marriages And Intercourse

When we read through these verses, we see that God is dealing with marriages which were unlawful and sexual intercourse outside of the marriage relationship. Remember this is what the nations around them were practising and so, Israel can to be different form all those nations.

We begin with incest, that is having sexual relationship with someone else within the father. We read that incest with your mother was forbidden, as was having sexual relations with your father’s wife, this would include stepmothers.

Sexual relations with your sister, grandchildren, stepsister, aunt, daughter in law and your sister in law were also forbidden. The penalty for these sexual offences was death, Leviticus 20:11-12 / Leviticus 20:17 / Leviticus 20:19-21.

The Israelites were also forbidden to marry a mother or daughter or granddaughter at the same time, the penalty for this was also death, Leviticus 20:14. They could not marry sisters as a rival, intercourse with a woman during her uncleanness was forbidden, Leviticus 20:18. Adultery was also forbidden, and the penalty was death, Deuteronomy 22:22, but in the case of a slave who were not killed, a sin offering was to be made.

Rape was also forbidden. For the person who was engaged, Deuteronomy 22:23-27, in the city both were put to death, Deuteronomy 22:23-24. In the field only the men were put to death, Deuteronomy 22:25-27. For the person who wasn’t engaged, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 / Exodus 22:16-17. In this case the father was given fifty shekels of silver, the man had to marry her and could not divorce her.

Prostitution was also forbidden, Deuteronomy 23:17 / Leviticus 21:9, homosexuality was forbidden and death was the penalty, Leviticus 20:13. Beastiality was also forbidden, and death was the penalty, Leviticus 20:15-16.

All other marriages would be lawful, this would include, a captive who could marry after mourning her parents. She was also to shave her head and trim her nails, Deuteronomy 21:10-14. A brother of a man who died having no children was to go into his brother’s wife to raise up children to his brother, Deuteronomy 25:5-10.

There were also laws concerning jealousy, a law for a suspected wife, Numbers 5:11-31, the man was to offer a grain offering for jealousy, Numbers 5:15. The woman was to drink some water of bitterness, Numbers 5:16-28, if her stomach swelled she was guilty, if not she was innocent.

A law for a suspected bride, Deuteronomy 22:13-21, the determining factor would be in the evidence of the girl’s virginity presented by the girl’s parents, Deuteronomy 22:15-17. If the charges were false the man was chastised and fined a hundred shekels of silver, he also had to marry her and could not divorce her, Deuteronomy 22:13-19. If the charge was true the woman was stoned to death, Deuteronomy 22:20-21.

Eunuchs and illegitimates were forbidden to enter the assembly, Deuteronomy 23:1-2. There were also laws concerning divorce. A certificate of divorce could be given if the husband was displeased with his wife, but he could not remarry her after she married someone else, Deuteronomy 4:1-4.

Cases where divorce was forbidden include, false charges against a bride, Deuteronomy 22:19, mistreatment of a virgin, Deuteronomy 22:28-29. This divorce was allowed by God because of the people’s hard hearts, Matthew 19:3-9.


Molek was a Canaanite God, he was represented in the fashion of a bronze statue with outstretched hands in front of him. The Canaanites would light a fire inside the hollow statue at the back and lay their children on the open arms and sacrifice them to Molek.

In the temple of Molek the Canaanites would have illicit sex with the temple prostitutes, this would be one of the reasons God threw them out of the Promised Land, Genesis 15:16.

Again, we begin to understand why the Israelites had to be different not only in their beliefs but in their practices of worship. They were God’s people and they must live according to God’s will, if they want to continue living in the land.

‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so, I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. ‘Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the LORD your God.’ Leviticus 18:24-30

Terms And Conditions

When it comes to God’s promise for the Israelites to live in the Promised land, Genesis 15:16 / Genesis 50:24-25, many people forget there were terms and conditions attached to the promise.

They had to fully obey God’s laws, but if they allowed themselves to be influenced from the Canaanite culture and get involved in idolatry then they would forfeit the land.

When we think about it, Israel’s future was in Israel’s own hands, obedience meant they would be blessed in the land but disobedience meant they would be removed from it and lose it all together.

Back To Leviticus 17

Go To Leviticus 19


"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

Hebrews 12:1