Chapter 10 (Sexual/Marital Relationships) pages 181-194
North begins the chapter by quoting Lev 18:24-29 but will go on in the chapter mainly to deal with v.25-26 and 28 which read
‘...the land vomited out its inhabitants...But you shall keep My statutes and My ordinances and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you...lest the land vomit you out, when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you’
Unfortunately, the main body of the Levitical chapter isn’t dealt with and North fails to comment on the verses quoted in the context of the passage to which it stands as a conclusion, seeing as it begins with the words (v.24)
‘Do not defile yourselves by any of these things...’
It’s not possible, therefore, to understand from North’s exposition of this chapter whether he feels that the laws concerning sexual relationships are still in force and neither will the passage that’s about to be discussed be related back into the context of the relevant passage. North will later state (page 183) that
‘The imagery of the land’s vomiting is closely connected to the Mosaic dietary laws...’
which is therefore incorrect. It’s closely connected with improper sexual relationships but not ceremonially unclean food.
That God warns the children of Israel that the land will vomit them out if they fail to live by the statutes that they’re being given is repeated in Lev 20:22 where it lies as a conclusion again to laws relating to sexual relationships, though the statement that the land has already vomited out its present inhabitants is not repeated there.
This vomiting, then, should be seen as a fitting reply by God to sexual immorality, not as a more general conclusion to the entire range of Laws that formed part of the Old Covenant with Israel. No where else in Scripture is this phrase used to denote the act of a geographic location removing its inhabitants from itself and it is, therefore, a unique passage that needs to be dealt with carefully.
When North notes (page 182 - my italics) that
‘Leviticus 18, more than any other chapter in the Bible, connects a society’s obedience to biblical law and its geography’
he’s summarising an entire chapter on the basis of just 5 verses (Lev 18:24-28). Surely, the ultimate chapter of God’s judgments against Israel within the land is Deuteronomy chapter 28 from v.15 onwards which details the continued sanctions that God would apply against Israel within the land should they choose to rebel against
‘...the voice of YHWH your God...all His commandments and His statutes which I command you this day...’
In this passage a specific application is not being made as it is in Leviticus chapter 18 and the outworking of the principle is being made more fully.
North notes on various occasions that the land of Israel will vomit out the Canaanite inhabitants as Israel enters in to the land and begins to take possession. For instance, on page 182, he notes
‘Like the hornets that went before the Israelites as they removed the Canaanites...so would the land spew them out if they committed the same sorts of sins that the Canaanites had committed’
and (page 185 - my italics)
‘...[the land] did not act as a covenantal agent until the Israelites crossed into the land from the wilderness’
and (page 186 - my italics)
‘...God tells them...that there will be comprehensive negative sanctions imposed against those who presently dwell in the land of Canaan. The Canaanites will someday be vomited out by the land...’
but the Scriptures don’t envisage the vomiting out of the Canaanites as a future action but as a present condition when it says (Lev 18:25)
‘...the land vomited out its inhabitants...’
‘...it vomited out the nation that was before you...’
However, North is correct here in interpreting the passage as a prophetic revelation that’s about to take place - in Hebrew language, a past tense used within a prophetic passage to show the reader (and hearer) the certainty of what has been related, as if, though future, it can be considered as done.
But North’s statement of the future state of the Israelite nation (page 182) that
‘...the Assyrians and Babylonians spewed them out of the land under the Mosaic Covenant’
is inaccurate, along with (page 185)
‘The Mosaic Covenant’s symbolic use of the land as God’s agent of negative sanctions represented military conquest...’
and (page 186)
‘The imagery of vomiting out symbolized a military phenomenon - invasion of the land...’
There are no armies mentioned in the passage under discussion and neither do we ever read that a third party is necessary for the land to vomit its residents - instead of an invasion into the land, the passage talks about an expulsion out from it.
The two nations may have been the method that God used to remove what had been rejected by the land, but they weren’t the agents that vomited them out - it was solely the land as a result of the nation’s sin.
We can’t even envisage the nations as being the fingers that go down the back of the land’s throat because, when they entered in to the land, the vomiting was an action ascribed to the land, not to any third party. All that the armies were doing was removing a people who, though geographically resident in the land, were not entitled to be resident there. The action had been taken by the land and they were simply enforcers.
The Canaanites are viewed as if they were the puss in the spot on a human body that’s rejected by the body but that’s awaiting the time when it will be removed either by its bursting naturally or by an external force. Even though the puss is still a part of the body, it doesn’t reduce the force of the words or the intention - the body has already decided that the infection will not be assimilated but will be excluded.
Had the Israelites actually realised this, then they may have been a bit bolder in going in to enter the Promised Land when they chose to rebel (Numbers chapters 13-14) - they envisaged themselves as forcefully removing a firmly established and resident nation whereas they were removing from the land what didn’t belong there and that which had no firm roots from which to spring back up.
North will go on to develop the idea of the military conquest of Canaan as being the vomiting out of the people in various campaigns through Israel’s history (page 185) and will conclude that
‘...the symbolism of the land as God’s covenantal agent is no longer valid; the arena of covenantal conflict is no longer the military battlefield’
but he’s applied military action to be a response to any breaking of the statutes and ordinances of the Law whereas, as we’ve seen, the phraseology is used in connection with sexual immorality and an army is only used by God in this context as the enforcement of what the land has rejected (the vomiting out of the inhabitants).
We could see in the judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:1-29) a similar event that took place before the nation of Israel existed - here the inhabitants were destroyed by a cataclysmic and independent event that didn’t rely upon an external army that would overthrow and possess. This may be reading too much in to the passage but it appears that a military conquest is only one means that God may use to enforce the established fact of a nation no longer being rightful possessors in the land through sexual immorality.
What the land of Canaan did to its inhabitants through their transgressions in sexual relationships will be enforced by whatever means that God chooses - in this case the Israelite army and nation.
Sexual immorality, therefore, and not general disobedience to the Law, is what causes a land to reject the people that are resident in it.
North makes a statement (page 184) that
‘The witness for the prosecution is required to cast the first stone...The earthquake is the obvious example of stone-casting by the land (Isa 29:6, Zech 14:5, Joel 2:10, Nahum 1:5). This quaking is the language of covenantal judgment’
with bewildering logic. Ground quaking can be a sign of the Lord’s approach (Ex 19:18) and the Scriptures quoted by North to support his statement don’t all indicate that the earthquake was unequivocally an indication of God’s judgment - the first warning, so to speak, North’s ‘first stone’.
Is 29:6 lists not just an earthquake as evidence of a visitation from the Lord but
‘...thunder and…earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire’
Besides, here the imagery is being used to denote an advancing army, not a natural (or supernatural) disaster (Is 29:5-8). Joel 2:10 also uses the earthquake to denote the advancing army rather than to denote a ‘first warning’ upon the land concerning sin. And, if Nahum 1:5 is to be taken literally, melting hills are just as significant as the quaking earth - and when were hills melted literally in the Biblical record?
An earthquake may, as North points out on pages 190-1, wake the inhabitants up to the problem of sin within their land, but it’s not, per se, evidence of God’s initial warning concerning lifestyle (see also I Kings 19:11-12 and Ezek 3:12-13 along with the Exodus passage cited above which show how the earthquake may be used by God to speak of His advancing into an area without the thought of judgment being present).
While the earthquake may serve as a warning to the covenant nation, it’s not a sure sign that God’s judging the nation or even that He’s giving it a preliminary warning. North will go on to discuss the concept of the earthquake (pages 189-192) as a means of God’s judgment upon Israel and of His present day use of it for the same reason.
But there needs to be a sufficiently accurate hermeneutic developed that enables us to see how to interpret their occurrences consistently as the Old Testament speaks of them in terms that can also be seen to represent the advance of the Lord into the society in which they happen.
His note 9 on page 190 implies that the 1994 southern California earthquake was a judgment of God upon sin (a preliminary warning, a ‘first stone’) and that it had a cleansing effect upon the inhabitants - but it could equally have been seen to be a demonstration of the Lord’s movement into the area - or just a natural quake.
North makes the statement (page 184) that
‘Because the resurrected Christ appears as the vomiter in New Covenant imagery [Rev 3:16], I conclude that He is the witness who brings judgment against societies’
and (page 188)
‘...it is Jesus Christ who now spews His enemies out of His presence...’
Though I wouldn’t disagree that Jesus is God’s Judge over the nations - whether in our present day and age or finally at the last judgment - the passage in Revelation is used there to justify the assertion speaks of Christ vomiting out believers (and not societies) who are ‘lukewarm’.
The analogy is not, therefore, fitting in this case.
When North states (page 185) that
‘With the abolition of the unique covenantal status of Old Covenant Israel, God ceased to speak of the Promised Land as His covenantal agent’
and (page 187)
‘The land is no longer said to be a covenantal agent after the exile’
we should, rather, understand that outside the two passages in Leviticus chapters 18 and 22, God ceased to speak of the Promised Land as His covenantal agent (as far as I can make out - I haven’t read the entire Bible to support my statement but, if a Scripture can be sent to me which would undermine the point I’ll gladly remove this section - just paste this into an email with a Scripture reference...).
North’s sentence makes it sound as if God used the imagery on a regular basis and that its absence in the six post-exilic books is significant - but it has a rare usage and then only in the context of sexual immorality.
North also states (page 186) that
‘God promised [the Israelites] that when they entered the land...the plagues of Egypt would be removed from the land, if they remained covenantally faithful (Deut 7:15)’
but the cited Scripture actually records that
‘...YHWH will take away from you all sickness; and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you knew, will He inflict upon you...’
This actually states that sickness in general will be removed from the nation and that the diseases of Egypt would not come upon the nation – there’s no mention here that the diseases of Egypt existed at that time in the land but that God would make sure that they wouldn’t come upon the land if they were faithful to the covenant.
God’s Word is preventative not curative.
North notes (page 187) that
‘Kingship was never again restored politically inside the boundaries of Israel [after the exile]’
However, under the rule of the Maccabeans, a short-lived sovereignty was established even though it was quite brief.
There was also the Herodean line of kings that was established as sovereign in the land but North probably doesn’t include these latter kings as they were still answerable to Roman rule and therefore not independent, exercising power more like a vassal state.
When North continues by saying that
‘The highest civil appeals court lay outside the boundaries of the land’
then I’m assuming that he’s referring to Paul’s ‘appeal to Caesar’ (Acts 25:11) - but this was only applicable to Roman citizens which Paul was. It wasn’t a right of Jewish nationals.
North states (page 188) that
‘The kingdom of God cannot be confined geographically in New Testament times’
but the explanation of the parable of the tares and the wheat (Mtw 13:36-43) does give us the equation that the world is the Kingdom of God (‘the field is the world’ v.38 and ‘gather out of His Kingdom’ referring to the field in v.41) - that is, God requires His will to be established throughout the earth and nothing is left outside His intended sovereignty and control.
North earlier cites Mtw 21:43 which sees Jesus stating to the Jews
‘...the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it’
concluding (page 187) that
‘The fall of Jerusalem marked the transfer of the kingdom of God to the church...’
Just as the nation of Israel was commissioned to establish the Kingdom of God within the geographic location in which they were resident, so too, the ‘nation’ of the Church (a nation that’s scattered within the nations of the earth - see the web page on ‘Priests’ if you haven’t already) is to establish the Sovereign rule of God within the nations of the world for no situation has been left outside God’s control through His people.
His further statement (page 188) that
‘Any nation can lawfully covenant with God today’
‘All nations are required by God to covenant with Him’
needs to be definitively proved with Scripture - not just with a reference to another work. That no statement within the New Testament exists as to this possibility is worrying, seeing as Israel are the only nation in history to have covenanted with God (North’s statement that Assyria covenanted with God is inaccurate - they repented and turned from their sin as recorded in the book of Jonah but they never entered into a covenantal agreement. Besides, the Old Covenant was God’s initiative as a result of a promise made to Abraham - no covenant is ‘cut’ with Assyria but God withholds His hand because of their repentance).
The New Covenant is made with individuals who form the new nation (see the ‘Priests’ link as above). There’s no command by God laid upon civil authorities to covenant with God collectively, even though, should a body of leaders do so, He would react accordingly.
But - and this is the main stumbling block - the covenant would be based upon a written code or agreement and not upon Christ - in short, there would be a return to an Old Covenant-type agreement and the cross would not be seen to have pre-eminence.
North’s statement (page 189) that
‘...where the preaching of the gospel is, there we find a nation being asked to become judicially holy ground’
is incorrect. The gospel is preached to individuals throughout the nations but the nation in which they reside is not called upon to become holy ground. It’s individuals who are called to turn from sin to the living God and allow God to establish His covenant with them - the New Covenant, when viewed solely on the basis of a covenantal agreement, is the same as Abraham’s which didn’t depend upon any obligation being made by the human side (see my notes here) of the union.
Holy ground is where God’s presence resides (not, incidentally, where it once resided - hence the inappropriateness of ancient ‘holy places’) and where He’s currently moving. That can only take place as the Church is used to see His presence made known in the situations around them.
While it’s quite true (page 189) that
‘[All nations] are to turn to the whole Bible in search of civil laws and civil sanctions’
there’s no obligation laid upon them to enter in to a corporate covenant.
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