Leviticus 18 is one of the fullest and most complete listings of what sexual activity was strictly forbidden to the ancient Israelites and remains strictly forbidden to Christians today. It is not my intent to discuss those sexual sins in detail except to say that it forbids incest (and gives very precise definitions on incest), homosexuality, bestiality, adultery, and having sex with a woman during her time of the month. These verses are plain and simple enough to understand without extensive commentary.
What is of interest today is what follows this straightforward condemnation of sexual sin. The thread I wish to discuss is that sin not only defiles people but it also defiles the land. The Bible, in this passage, Leviticus 18:24-30, would seem to indicate that sin pollutes the very land where people live and sin. In this day and age where people make such a fuss about water pollution and air pollution and noise pollution in seeking to preserve God’s creation, it is remarkable that the subject of sin pollution is so commonly ignored.
Before we explore the thread of sin pollution more, let us look at the passage of Leviticus 18:24-30, which are the most clear statement the Bible makes on the subject of sin pollution It reads as follows: “Do not defile yourself by any of these things; for by these all the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. You shall therefore keep My statues and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore you shall keep My ordinance, so that you do not commit any of these abominable customs which were committed before you, and that you do not defile yourselves by them: I am the Lord your God.”
This passage is unusually descriptive in talking about the results of the sexual immorality of the Canaanites, with a strict warning that it is the act of sexual immorality that defiles the land, irrespective of the person committing the sin. There is no license for kings to have sexual immorality while peasants are punished, there is no license for Jews or Christians to get away with what Gentiles like the Canaanites were punished for. The same divine standard of godly behavior applied for all, for all of the sexual sins discussed previously in Leviticus 18. These laws did not apply only for Israel but for anyone who dwelled in the land, or anyone that was under the jurisdiction of Israel’s leaders, or anyone who is under the jurisdiction of Christians today, whatever their own belief systems.
It is striking as well that this passage states clearly and repeats for effect that sexual immorality defiles both the inhabitants of the land who commit such sins as well as the land itself. It is easy enough to see how sexual immorality defiles people. After all, incest leads to genetic problems, and promiscuity leads to sexually transmitted diseases, which are even more common among homosexual populations than among the regular population as a whole (as sinful as we are). Additionally, bestiality (along with eating unclean foods and blood) is one of the major vectors of disease transfer from animals to humans. Clearly God knows what He is talking about in banning such practices, as hard as it is for us to obey such laws.
What is particularly unusual, though, is that multiple times God reminds ancient Israel (and us today) that sin defiles, or pollutes, the very land. That is something we do not often pay attention to. Areas where incest or bestiality or homosexuality or promiscuity are rampant are literally polluted or defiled places. They are like “brown belt” areas where rotting and decaying factories are, the moral equivalent of landfills. This is something we do not often reflect upon, but God clearly connects literal pollution with sexual immorality.
It is as a result of the defilement of the land by such sins that God says repeatedly that the land will vomit out inhabitants, whether Canaanite or Israelite or anyone else, who commits such sins. We ought not to think, either, that this law was limited to the Promised land. Instead, it appears to be a general comment that the earth vomits out those inhabitants (and those societies) that commit such sins. If such was true in Leviticus 18 for Canaan, and God warned would be the case for Israel or for resident aliens who committed such immoral behaviors, then we can safely extrapolate that such is true in all places at all times for all peoples, and then to wonder if our own lands are vomiting us out because of our flagrant and unrepentant immorality.
We ought to pause as well because the image of being vomited out of the mouth is not a common one. It does remind the reader of Revelation 3:16, which says, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” It is possible that part of being “lukewarm” is not merely lacking in passion or enthusiasm, but may also mean that something is “spoiled” as a result of having been left out too long, suggesting defilement, just as the literal water of the ancient city of Laodicea was spoiled and lukewarm as a result of having to travel for miles in pipes, thus making it tepid. We ought to be careful of the possible connection between the land vomiting out those who are guilty of sexual immorality and God vomiting out believers whose own morality is less than stellar, because the similar imagery might indicate some of the reason why God would vomit such people out of His mouth unless they repent.
Therefore, let us note that Leviticus 18 clearly talks about sin pollution as a reality, not as a hypothesis. It also clearly connects sin pollution as a problem of the land with the sexual immorality of the inhabitants of the land. Since these sexual sins are rampant in our own societies, at least as much as they were in ancient Israel and in ancient Canaan, we ought to be aware that the consequences of sin pollution will fall on us, perhaps speedily, unless we repent and change our ways. God does not forever tolerate the defilement of His creation by the wickedness of the inhabitants of the land, after all.