Aharei Mot & Kedoshim
For the week of April 28, 2007 / 10 Iyar 5767
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 16:1 - 20:27
Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15
God's Standards for All
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. (Vayikra / Leviticus 18:24)
The Torah (the five books of Moses) is not simply a collection of dos and don'ts; it gives us God's perspective on life. The word "Torah," often translated as "law" could be understood more correctly as "direction." It shows us the way of life. Some of its teaching is explicit, such as certain clear moral directives, while much of its teaching is implicit, as we learn about God and life through good and bad behavioral examples or indirect statements. The verse just quoted is one of those indirect statements. This statement is part of the conclusion of a detailed list of immoral behaviors in which the people of Israel were forbidden to engage. The implications of this statement are essential in helping us understand how God views immorality among people in general.
Among some people who claim to believe the Bible, there is a tendency to avoid imposing biblical standards upon the society at large. In order to do this subject justice, we would need to discuss what "impose" really means in this context. In this brief discussion we don't have the time and space to get into every aspect. Before I delve into an aspect of this that I think is one of the most foundational, I do want to state that I don't believe that the biblical mandate is fulfilled in creating a religious political state. Faith cannot be legislated. But that doesn't preclude the need to address moral issues. All governments legislate morality; it is just a question of what kind of morality it will legislate.
Returning to the particular aspect of this issue that this week's passage addresses, note that God told the people of Israel that the peoples they were to displace in the Promised Land were being judged by God for the immoral behaviors listed. We don't know if and when God may have communicated morality to the peoples of the world. It is possible that no such communication was ever given. Yet this did not prevent God from calling these peoples to account for failing to meet God's standards.
This tells us that the God of the Universe responds to the behavior of people whoever they might be and whatever they might know. We who have received biblical revelation know what people in general do not know - and that is that God will judge them for failing to meet his standards. How then can we not communicate this truth to people? Whether or not the people among whom we live believe the Scriptures or have any concept of the true God at all, they and their children will benefit by following God's standards. Their failure to do so will lead them to a fate similar to those referred to in our passage.
It would take a fair amount of study to determine which of God's standards should apply to societies in general. But that some of his standards do apply is evident by this and other biblical passages. Of course the most important of these standards is the need for all people to trust in the Messiah. But personal faith is not the only aspect of life that God gives attention to, so neither should we.
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