3.24 Rejection of Canaanites and Egyptians
Leviticus contains several prohibitions against following the customs of either Canaanites or Egyptians:
"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" (Lev 18:3).
One specific practice which is prohibited is child sacrifice (Lev 18:21, Lev 20:2-5). Molech was an Ammonite deity, to whom infants were sacrificed as burnt offerings. Despite God's abhorrence of this practice, it continued throughout the history of Israel until the Babylonian captivity -- (2 Kings 16:3, 2 Kings 23:10, Jer 7:31, Jer 32:35, Ezekiel 16:20-21, Ezekiel 20:26-31, Ezekiel 23:37-39. Solomon built a shrine for this god (1 Kings 11:7)).
A list of sexual sins is given in Lev 18 as typical conduct of the Canaanites.
"No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the Lord" (Lev 18:6).
"Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable" (Lev 18:22).
"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" (Lev 18:24-5).
"Everyone who does any of these detestable things -- such persons must be cut off from their people" (Lev 18:29).
This phrase "being cut off from the people" was the ultimate punishment, and occurs throughout Leviticus. 1 These were sins that could not be atoned for through sacrifice, they were "covenant-breakers." They covered many categories of behavior: mishandling offerings, eating blood, sexual relations, child sacrifice, failure to observe the Day of Atonement or Passover. This punishment was equivalent to being disowned as a member of God's people. The form of cutting off seems to have varied:
a. immediate execution by the community
c. divine destruction by fire or disease
Lev 18-20 is important because it provides God's justification for the policy of "racial genocide" which will be implemented in Joshua. The eradication of the Canaanites in favor of the Israelites was both the fulfillment of ancient promises to Abraham and Jacob, and also righteous judgment on the native inhabitants for their perversion and degeneracy. This policy, though extreme, was not based on racism, nor even on idolatrous religious beliefs, but on the behavior of the local people. It was the actual deeds, the practices, which these religions endorsed that are called "detestable customs" (RSV - "abominable customs"). These acts defiled not only the people who engaged in them, but also the land itself. In graphic language, the land "vomited out" the inhabitants. The defilement of the land occurred through the construction of shrines and "high places" where the "abominations" were practiced.
Lev 18-20 is also a slap in the face to a modern citizen of a Western democratic country, because these laws overthrow the supremacy of individual rights and free choices which are believed to be the cornerstone of our civilization. If Ex 20, the 10 Commandments, provides the basic principles for the building of a holy nation, Lev 18, the"do not's," is the prescription for its antithesis. It shows God's anathemas, and we would do well not to dismiss them. These commands reflect God's insistence on the value of human life and the integrity of families. If we believe the 10 Commandments have lasting validity, then so do their opposites. Sexual perversions and sacrifice of children have reappeared in various forms, and have even been enshrined as modern civil rights. The Old Covenant asserts that such actions are not allowable under an individual's rights of "privacy" or "mutual consent," because they affect, and infect, even the ecology, the physical environment. These modern "rights" pollute the land, and will lead to the dispossession of the people practicing them.