Moses has been explaining the Ten Commandments and applying them for the Israelites to their life in the Promised Land of Canaan. Today’s passage relates to the seventh commandment which is:
You shall not commit adultery.
And not only does this commandment forbid adultery, but it forbids all impure thoughts and words as well as actions; and it requires us to preserve our own and our neighbour’s purity. So, it’s not only to do with behaviour, but with our thoughts, including our desires, and our words. And it’s not only forbids adultery, but all forms of sexuality immorality.
The background to the commandment is the creation account, where we read that God created us in two distinct genders — male and female. And the Lord determined that marriage — when two people are united together in one flesh — is between a man and a woman only. Furthermore, marriage between a man and a woman is the only right and proper setting for sexual activity.
Now, an unbelieving and rebellious world distinguishes between: biological sex (which is determined by one’s physical anatomy); gender identity (which can be masculine, feminine, or transgender and which is based on how a person acts, talks, dresses, and behaves); and sexual orientation (which can be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual and is based on one’s sexual attractions). In other words, an unbelieving world says it possible that someone who has the body of a man may feel like a woman and be attracted to men. Nevertheless, this is not the way it’s supposed to be, because in the beginning God created us as male or female only, with biological sex, gender identity and sexual orientation being one and the same. And so, the current confusion in the world regarding gender issues and sexuality is a sign of the world’s rebellion against our Maker, who alone has the right and authority to determine the way things are. And the current confusion is also — according to Paul in Romans 1 — a sign of God’s judgment on the world, because Paul makes clear that because people suppress the truth of God by their wickedness, God gave them over to sexual impurity and shameful lusts.
The Lord has also determined that marriage between a man and a woman ought to be life-long. So, when are couple are married, they promise to forsake all others and to remain faithful to one another until separated by death. This is God’s will for us; and therefore in the seventh commandment he forbids adultery, because couples should remain faithful to each other always.
However, all of us are sinners and all of us break the seventh commandment in different ways, because we break it not only by our deeds, but in our thoughts and with our desires. God calls us to absolute purity, but none of us is absolutely pure; and we all defile ourselves by the things we do and say and think. However, the good news of the gospel is that there is forgiveness from God when we go astray. There is forgiveness for all who trust in Jesus Christ, the only Saviour of the world, who loved us and who frees us from our sins by his blood, shed on the cross. Through faith in him, we are washed and cleansed and receive a full pardon for all that we do wrong. And whoever trusts in Christ not only receives forgiveness, but they also receive the Holy Spirit to help them to live self-controlled and upright and godly lives, lives of purity and faithfulness.
So, that’s the background to the Lord’s seventh commandment which forbids adultery and all forms of sexual immorality and impurity. And in today’s passage, Moses refers to offences involving married women and offences involving unmarried women as well as laws concerning the holiness of God’s people.
The first four verses of our passage — verses 9 to 12 of chapter 22 — could have been taken with last week’s passage. Indeed, while some of the commentators put those verses with today’s passage, some of them put them with last week’s passage. In other words, it’s hard to determine where they fit. However, I’ve included them in today’s passage, because three of them are about making sure things are not mixed, but are kept pure, which seems a fitting introduction to the laws about marriage. So, the Israelites at that time were not to plant two kinds of seed in the same field; they weren’t to plough with an ox and donkey; and they weren’t to wear clothes of wool and linen. The idea behind these prohibitions seems to be that what is mixed is impure. In the same way, they were to guard the purity of their marriages by avoiding all forms of sexual immorality. Verse 12 required them to wear cloaks with tassels on the four corners. According to Numbers 15:37–41, the purpose of the tassels was to remind them of the commandments of the Lord, so that they would obey God’s laws and not prostitute themselves by going after the lusts of their own hearts and eyes. In other words, the tassels were to remind them to be faithful and devoted to the Lord only. And that too seems a fitting introduction to the rest of the passage which is concerned with purity.
Let’s turn now to verse 13 to 22 where Moses refers to offences involving married women. So, here’s a man who accuses his new wife of not being a virgin when he married her. It was universally accepted in Israel that women should remain virgins until married. By accusing her in this way, the husband gave his wife a bad name.
In such cases, the woman’s parents should bring proof of her virginity to the elders. If the husband’s allegation are shown to be false, the elders are to punish the man, which probably means he was flogged or whipped. Furthermore, he was required to give his father-in-law 100 shekels of silver as recompense for the damage he did to his wife’s reputation and the reputation of her parents, who were responsible for her purity. And he must not divorce his wife ever.
However, if the charge was shown to be true, the woman was to be brought to the door of her father’s house and stoned to death, because she was deemed to have done a disgraceful thing by being promiscuous while still living in her father’s house. The punishment took place at her father’s house to bring shame on her parents who were responsible for her purity before she was married. Death by stoning tells us how seriously the Lord viewed sexual immorality. And this evil must be purged from the land, because the Lord’s people are to be holy and undefiled.
In verse 22 we have the case of a man who sleeps with another man’s wife. In such cases, both the man and the woman must die. Both of them have broken the seventh commandment, forbidding adultery. And the punishment is death. This evil must be purged from the land, because the Lord’s people are to be holy and undefiled.
In verses 23 to 29 Moses refers to offences involving unmarried women. If a man meets a woman in a town who is engaged to another man and he sleeps with her, then both of them must be stoned to death. The man must die for violating the woman; the woman must die because she did not cry out. Not crying out means that she consented to what happened.
If a man is out in the country and meets a woman who is engaged to another man and he rapes her, then he must die. The woman must not be killed, because she was guiltless, because she did not consent to what happened.
If a man meets a woman who is not engaged and he rapes her, then he is required to pay the woman’s father 50 shekels of silver — which is the customary bride price that was paid in those days — and to marry the woman. And he can never divorce her.
An unbelieving world no longer cares whether men and women remain virgins until they’re married. Indeed, the very thought of someone saving themselves for marriage is considered foolish by many in today’s world. But the will of the Lord is clear that the only fitting and proper setting for sexuality activity is in marriage. And so, young people must be careful to keep their relationships pure, because this is the will of the Lord for you. And those of us who are married, must remember that the will of the Lord for us is to be loving and faithful and dutiful to our spouse until we’re separated by death. When we were married, we promised to forsake all others and to remain faithful to this one person for the remainder of our life here on earth. And, of course, we must remain faithful in every way: not just by what we do and don’t do, but we must be faithful and pure in our thoughts and desires. Didn’t the Lord say that whoever looks lustfully at another woman has committed adultery? And so, we’re to guard our eyes and what we look at; and we’re to guard our thoughts and what we think about. And we must look to the Lord for forgiveness when we fail; and we must look to the Lord for the help of his Spirit, because the Spirit of God is the Holy Spirit and he’s able to make us holy.
Verse 30 at the end of chapter 22 forbids a man from marrying his father’s wife. That is, he’s not to sleep with his step-mother. To do so would be to dishonour his father’s bed.
In verses 1 to 6, Moses lists various people who may not enter the assembly of the Lord. The phrase ‘assembly of the Lord’ refers to God’s people at that time, who used to assemble in the presence of the Lord to hear his word and to worship him. And just as the pagan nations were excluded from the Lord’s assembly, so these other people were excluded as well. No one who has been emasculated may enter his assembly. No one born of a forbidden marriage or who is descended from such a marriage may enter his assembly. A forbidden marriage was an incestuous one or one between an Israelite and a pagan. No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord. And Moses refers to the time when those people did not help the Israelites when they were travelling to the Promised Land. He also refers to the time when they hired Balaam the prophet to curse them. You can read the story in Numbers 22 and following. Because of what they did to Israel in those days, the Lord forbade them from joining his assembly.
However, Moses commands the Israelites not to abhor an Edomite, because an Edomite was their brother. The Edomites were descended from Esau, who was the brother of Jacob, the father of the Israelites. Furthermore, the Israelites weren’t to abhor an Egyptian, because the Israelites once lived in Egypt. For many years, the Egyptians treated them as slaves and made their lives miserable. However, before that time, the Egyptians were good to the Israelites, saving them from the famine in the days of Joseph. And so, the third generation of children born to Edomites and Egyptians may enter the assembly of the Lord.
It might seem odd to have these laws in this part of the book which deals with the seventh commandment. Nevertheless, just as the seventh commandment is concerned with purity between men and women, these laws are concerned with the purity of the assembly. The psalmist asked:
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
Not everyone could enter the presence of the Lord and stand before him in his temple to worship him, but only God’s chosen people. The Lord is holy and only his holy people could come before him; and all others were excluded at that time.
Verses 9 to 14 are concerned with another kind of purity. This time it’s the purity of the army camp. So, according to verse 9, whenever they were encamped against their enemies, they were required to keep away from everything impure. Verses 10 and 11 contain a particular example of uncleanness. And according to verses 12 and 13, the toilets — where they could relieve themselves — were to be located outside the camp. The reason for this is given in verse 14: the Lord their God moves about in the camp to protect them and to deliver them from their enemies. The Lord moved about in the camp in the sense that the ark of covenant represented his presence in their midst. The ark was a sign that God was with them. And since God was with them, their camp must be holy so that he would not see anything indecent. If he saw anything indecent, then he may turn away from them. And so, they were to keep the camp holy, so the Lord would stay with them and protect them.
So, because the Lord is holy, only his chosen people may enter his assembly to hear his word and to worship him. And because the Lord is holy, the men must keep the army camp pure, so that the Lord will not leave them.
Saints and Sinners
As I said last week, the fact that these laws were required was a reminder to the people of Israel that the Promised Land of Canaan was not the true Promised Land. In the true Promised Land, all of God’s people will live in peace and safety on God’s holy mountain where they will be nothing to tempt us to sin and where we will live holy and pure lives forever. And these laws about adultery and rape and so on make clear that though they were coming into the Promised Land of Canaan — which was a land flowing with milk and honey, a land like the Garden of Eden — they would still sin against the Lord and they would still sin against one another. Though men and women would love one another and be married, their love would grow cold and they would hurt one another; and, instead of forsaking all others, they would be drawn to others. This would be the case, because each one of them would be a mixture of saint and sinner: people who love the Lord and who want to do his will, but who are also sinners and who are tempted by sin. And so, since that’s the case, they needed God’s law to guide them and to remind them of his will for them and to show them what the penalty would be whenever any of them broke God’s law.
Moses was preparing the Israelites to enter the Promised Land of Canaan. But the land they were about to enter was not the true Promised Land. And though we have believed in Christ the Saviour and have become members of his people, and though we can assemble together before the Lord on Sundays to hear his word and to worship him, nevertheless we too are that mixture of saint and sinner, because though we love the Lord and want to do his will, we’re still sinners who are tempted to sin. And so, we’re tempted to sin by engaging in unlawful sexual activity. And our marriages are not perfect; and husbands and wives who love one another still hurt one another by the things we say and do. Christians husbands and wives are unfaithful to one another; and inside our hearts there are all kinds of sinful thoughts and desires which we know are not right. Though we have become members of God’s people through faith in Christ, we know we’re not pure.
And that’s why, when we assemble together, we begin with confession, because we need to confess our sins and shortcomings to the Lord: our thoughts and words and our desires and deeds which are not right and which offend the Lord. And the good news is that when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The psalmist says:
[W]hen I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
But then he said:
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
And so, we come before the Lord and we confess our sins and shortcomings, confident that he will do what he has promised and will forgive us for our sins for the sake of Christ our Saviour who loved us and who frees us from our sins by his blood. He laid down his life as the ransom to free us from condemnation. And we all deserve to be condemned — don’t we? — because which of us has not sinned against the Lord? But the Lord laid down his life to free us from condemnation. And the Lord shed his blood to cleanse us from our guilt. And having confessed our sins before the Lord, and having been reassured of his pardon, we can worship the Lord with joy declare his praises.
And as I said last week, these laws which we read here teach us to look forwards to the new creation, because there in the new heavens and earth, where God’s people will assemble before him forever, we’ll be glorified and will be made perfect and we’ll live perfect lives before the Lord, lives of holiness and purity. There, in the new heavens and the earth, there will be nothing to cause us to sin, because the old order of things — the way things are in this broken and sinful world — will have passed away forever. And we’ll live perfect lives.
And so, that’s what we’re waiting for. That’s what we’re hoping for. We waiting for life in the new heavens and earth, where we’ll be made perfect; where none of us will sin or be tempted to sin; and where we’ll enjoy the presence of the Lord forever. And until that day comes, we can look to the Lord to give us his Spirit to help us to live self-controlled and upright and godly lives. He’s able to help us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and he’s able to transform us more and more into God’s likeness. Think of Joseph in the Old Testament, who was tempted to sin with Potiphar’s wife, but instead of giving in to the temptation, he ran from it. Well, the Holy Spirit, living inside us, is able to help us to have the mind of Joseph, so that we too will flee from such sins. He’s able to help us to put to death the deeds of the body, and to use our bodies as instruments of righteousness, doing what is right instead of what is evil. He’s able to help us, because — for those who belong to Christ by faith — sin is no longer our master, but Christ is; and his Spirit helps us to do his will.
And the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, living inside Christian husbands, will enable them more and more to love their wives as Christ loved his bride — which is the church — because he gave himself up for her, to make her holy. Instead of putting himself first, instead of saving himself, the Lord Jesus was prepared to suffer and to die on the cross for the good of his bride, the church. And his Spirit, living inside Christian husbands, will enable them to love their wives like that: putting their wives first and doing them good. And the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, living inside Christian wives, will enable them more and more to love their husbands.
The Lord has given us his word of command. He says to us:
You shall not commit adultery.
And the Lord who commands us gives us his Spirit to help us to do what he has commanded. And so, not only should we look to him for forgiveness, but we should look to him for the help we need, to keep ourselves and our marriage pure and to love one another as we should.
And finally, in those days the Lord commanded through Moses that certain groups of people should be kept out of his assembly. However, he now calls on everyone to come to him through Christ. And whoever comes and puts their faith in Christ is added to the church. In the days of Moses, those who were emasculated were kept away; and those who came from forbidden marriages were kept away; and those who were foreigners were kept away. But after the Lord Jesus died and was raised, he commanded his apostles to make disciples of all nations, baptising them and teaching them. And so, the apostles went from place to place, preaching the gospel to Jews and to Samaritans and to Gentiles, calling them to turn to God through Christ for salvation.
And so, on the day of Pentecost, that great crowd of God-fearing Jews from many nations repented and were baptised into membership of Christ’s church. Philip the Evangelist went to Samaria and preached the good news to Samaritans. And they too believed and were baptised into membership of Christ’s church. And that same Philip proclaimed the gospel to the Ethiopian Eunuch, an emasculated man; and he too believed and was baptised into membership of Christ’s church. And Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius, a Gentile, and he too believed and was baptised into membership of Christ’s church.
In the days of Moses, certain people had to be excluded from the assembly. But now, if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, then — no matter who you are and no matter what you have done — he washes and cleanses you by Christ’s blood, and all your guilt is removed from you forever. And he declares you holy in his sight, for the sake of Christ, the righteous one. And he adds you to Christ’s church and makes you a member of his holy people. And he gives you his Spirit to help you to live a holy life. And you can look forward to the day when you’re brought into God’s presence in the true Promised Land of Eternal Life to live with him forever in that place where there will be nothing and no one to tempt you to sin and where you will remain faithful to the Lord forever.