Conviction Versus Eviction

22 “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23 And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. 24 But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25 You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. 26 You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

27 “A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.” Leviticus 20:22-27 ESV

Long before the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, God warned them that their stay there would be a short one if they failed to keep His commands. And God used very graphic terms to describe the consequences of their disobedience.

“You must keep all my decrees and regulations by putting them into practice; otherwise the land to which I am bringing you as your new home will vomit you out. – Leviticus 20:22 NLT

This rather grotesque-sounding eviction notice was intended to underscore the vile nature of the moral conditions in Canaan. Back in chapter 18, God used the same terminology to explain why He was planning to expel the land’s current occupants.

“Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for the people I am driving out before you have defiled themselves in all these ways. Because the entire land has become defiled, I am punishing the people who live there. I will cause the land to vomit them out. – Leviticus 18:24-25 NLT

According to God, the inhabitants of Canaan were guilty of all the sexual sins and morally repugnant behaviors He had just banned the Israelites from participating in. The lifestyle of the Canaanites was in direct opposition to the will of God and their presence in the land had left it defiled. The various people groups who had taken up residence in Canaan, including the Hivites, Girgashites, Jebusites, Amorites, Hittites, and Perizzites, were guilty of every one of the atrocities God had banned. Their immoral behavior had so “sickened” the land, that it was going to vomit them up in search of relief. The Hebrew word can literally be translated, “to vomit up, spue out, disgorge.”

Back in chapter 18, God described the land as being “defiled.” The Hebrew word is טָמֵא (ṭāmē’), and it means “to be foul, especially in a ceremonial or moral sense (contaminated)” (“H2930 – ṭāmē’ – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (kjv).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 12 Jul, 2023. <;). And God went on to explain that the land had become contaminated by the presence of the Canaanites. Their own defilement had left the land in a foul and morally corrupt state, leaving God with no other choice but to evict or disgorge the sickness from the land. And God warned the Israelites about mimicking the ways of the Canaanites.

You must not imitate their way of life. – Leviticus 18:2 NLT

Instead, the Israelites were to obey His decrees and regulations, so that they might “find life through them” (Leviticus 18:5 NLT). Rather than infecting the land with further moral sickness, the Israelites were to rejuvenate the land by living in obedience to the will of God. God reminds the Israelites that Canaan was the land of promise, an inheritance passed down from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“I have promised you, ‘You will possess their land because I will give it to you as your possession—a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from all other people.’” – Leviticus 20:24 NLT

This rich, fertile land was intended to be a gift from God, but its fruitfulness had been diminished by the sinful exploits of the Canaanites. Their degraded behavior had left a stain on the land. But even in its morally compromised state, Canaan was to be the future home of God’s people, just as God had promised to Moses as his calling.

“I have promised to rescue you from your oppression in Egypt. I will lead you to a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live.” – Exodus 3:17 NLT

God had kept His word and rescued the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. He had led them to Mount Sinai, where He gave them the law, His plans for the Tabernacle, and the instructions concerning the sacrificial system. But Sinai was a temporary stop in their journey east. Their real destination was Canaan and God was going to keep His promise to give them the land as their possession.

Centuries earlier, after God had called Abraham out of Ur and led him to the land of Canaan, He revealed the future fate of His servant’s descendants.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.” – Genesis 15:13 ESV

God predicted the Israelite’s 400-year stay in Egypt. But God also promised their eventual return to the land of Canaan.

And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” – Genesis 15:16 ESV

God knew in advance that, during the Israelite’s absence from Canaan, the Amorites and all their pagan peers would turn the promised land into a moral wasteland. They would have four centuries to degrade and defile the land that God had set apart as the inheritance of Abraham’s offspring. And long before Moses and the people of Israel reached Sinai, God had assured His servant Abraham that the ownership of land would one day change hands.

“To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” – Genesis 15:18-21 ESV

But there was one condition:

“You must keep all my decrees and regulations by putting them into practice; otherwise the land to which I am bringing you as your new home will vomit you out. – Leviticus 20:22 NLT

If the Israelites dared to emulate the ways of the Canaanites, they would face the same fate. Their set-apart status as God’s chosen people would not immunize them from God’s judgment. If they failed to obey His commands, they too would face eviction from the land. God wanted them to understand that their privileged position as His treasured possession came with expectations.

I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from all other people. – Leviticus 20:24 NLT

God had “separated” them from all the other nations on earth. The Hebrew word is בָּדַל (bāḏal), and it means “to make a distinction or difference.” God had culled them from the rest of the nations, not because they were unique or deserving of His attention, but because He had determined to use them as an example of His grace, mercy, and love. He was going to do for them what they could never have accomplished on their own. He would set them apart, distinguishing them from the other nations by providing them with His laws to regulate their conduct, the Tabernacle to determine their worship, and the sacrificial system to maintain their right standing with Him. All of these things would set them apart as His chosen people. But none of it mattered if they failed to live up to their calling.

The Israelites were no different or better than the Hivites, Girgashites, Jebusites, Amorites, Hittites, and Perizzites. The only thing that distinguished them from the pagan occupants of Canaan was their relationship with Yahweh. They had been chosen by Him to serve as His “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Leviticus 19:6 ESV). But it was obedience to His commands that would truly set them apart. God had no use for disobedience priests of an unholy nation. The land of Canaan was already filled with those kinds of people. That’s why God reminds the Israelites, “You must be holy because I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own” (Leviticus 20:26 NLT).

God didn’t want the Israelites to misunderstand. Yes, holiness can be viewed as a status conferred by God. The Hebrew word for “holy” is קָדוֹשׁ (qāḏôš), and can be translated as “set apart” or “consecrated.” God had separated the Israelites from the rest of the nations by deeming them to be His treasured possession. But their set-apart status required a distinctive set of behaviors. As His kingdom of priests and His holy nation, they were expected to live in a way that differentiated them from everyone else on the planet. Holiness isn’t just a status, it is a calling, and it requires purity, commitment, obedience, and faithfulness. Holiness is an all-encompassing lifestyle that demonstrates one’s allegiance to and love for God. The apostle Peter describes it this way:

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16 NLT

God had redeemed Israel out of captivity, given them His law, provided the Tabernacle as His earthly dwelling place, and instituted the sacrificial system as a means of atoning for their sins and maintaining their ongoing access to His power and presence. But they were going to have to live as who they were: His holy people. Otherwise, they would eventually suffer the same fate as the Canaanites.

There is an interesting parallel to this passage found in the story of Jonah. This prophet of God had been ordered to travel to Ninevah in order to deliver a message.

“…go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” – Jonah 1:2 ESV

But Jonah refused to obey God. Fearing that God’s message might result in the repentance of the wicked people of Ninevah, Jonah ran the other direction. He ended up on a ship, was caught in a storm, was cast into the sea by the sailors, and swallowed by a great fish. But what happens next is the truly interesting part. It seems that his time in the fish’s stomach brought Jonah to his senses and he prayed to God. But God’s means of deliverance was far from flattering or dignified. Notice what the text says:

And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. – Jonah 2:10 ESV

That is the same Hebrew word used in Leviticus 20. God had the fish “vomit” or unceremoniously disgorge Jonah onto dry land. Jonah’s disobedience made the fish sick. And God warns the people of Israel that the same fate awaits them if they fail to keep His commands. But in their case, it will be the land itself that vomits them up. And God ends this section with a statement that appears somewhat out of place.

“Men and women among you who act as mediums or who consult the spirits of the dead must be put to death by stoning. They are guilty of a capital offense.” – Leviticus 20:27 NLT

But this summary statement appears to be a not-so-subtle reminder that holiness is tied directly to obedience. The ways of the wicked are to be avoided at all costs. God’s lengthy list of prohibitions is meant to be obeyed, down to the last detail. God would not tolerate any concessions or compromises. And neither will Jesus. In His words to the church in Laodicea, recorded in the book of Revelation, Jesus has some strong words concerning their failure to remain wholeheartedly committed to His will.

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! – Revelation 3:15-16 NLT

The half-hearted obedience of His people is enough to make Jesus sick. Holiness demands a sold-out commitment to living set-apart lives that reveal the transformative power of God’s Word and will.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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