He shall live by them

Leviticus 18:1-5
1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God.
3 “‘According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances.
4 “‘You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am the LORD your God.
5 “‘You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.'”

The Exodus was both a wonderful and a terrifying time for the children of Israel. The Israelites were in transition, going from a life of slavery and service to foreign gods toward a life of freedom and plenty and service to the one true God. The problem was they didn’t know how to live such a new life. Generations of their forefathers had gradually lost sight of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and even among those who had remained faithful, they didn’t know what shape that faith ought to take. With a million-plus people on the move from Egypt to Canaan, the Israelites needed faith, structure, guidance, and, yes, law.

Today’s verses are from the book we call “Leviticus”–which comes from the Latin and means “That which pertains to the Levites.” But in Hebrew the title is “Wayyiqra,” which means “And He Called”–referring to the very first verse:

Leviticus 1:1
1 Now the LORD called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting, saying,
2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them…”

The whole book of Leviticus is a series of direct commands from the Lord God, spoken to Moses for him to speak to the children of Israel. God called to Moses and gave Moses the law, and then Moses passed it on. The book is about giving the Israelites structure and purpose, about guiding them with firm laws and morals, and most importantly, it is about teaching them about the righteousness God seeks from them.

In today’s verses, the Lord summarizes the importance of the law by telling the Israelites not to do as they once did in Egypt, nor to follow the laws and ways of Canaan where they are going, but to adhere to the law being given them by the LORD their God. He tells them not to live in the past nor be swayed in the future, but to live in His Word–His ordinances, statutes, and judgments. The Lord is essentially saying, “Don’t be like you were nor live like others do. Live as I the Lord tell you to live.”

In verse 5, God tells the Israelites to “keep” His statutes and judgments. The word used here for “keep” is “shâmar,” which means literally to protect, to hedge in, to guard. And when He says “if a man does, he shall live by them,” He is saying more literally, “If a man protects and preserves My Word, then by that Word he shall be revived.” Does that remind you of another passage from the books of Moses?

Deuteronomy 8:3
So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.

We have all been in our Egypt, and we pray that in this life we shall see our own Canaan, but even if we do not, we have faith that the true Promised Land of eternal life is ours through Christ. But in this mortal life, we must leave behind the way we once lived our lives, never looking back toward Egypt or Sodom, always looking forward to the joy set before us. (Hebrews 12:1-2) And as we travel onward, and even when we settle in new places, we must never neglect the Word of God which brings us life. As David wrote:

Psalms 19:7-11
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

What greater reward could there be for keeping the Word of the Lord than to LIVE?

Today, don’t look back to Egypt nor look outward at the Canaan or the Sodom around you. Don’t look with nostalgia at any other place or time. Instead, let us dwell in the Word of God, placing it within our hearts, hedging it in so it is not polluted by worldly ways and concerns, preserving it so it can preserve us. He is the LORD our God, the One who brought us out of slavery to sin. Let us therefore keep His Word and live.

Almighty God, we praise You today for the gift of Your Word. Without the Bible, we might never have known how boundless is Your love, how merciful Your judgments, nor how wise Your ways. You have the words of life. To whom shall we turn? Only to You, Lord God. Only to Your Son. Only to Your Spirit. I shall keep Your Word, Father, and by it shall I live. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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