It is perhaps surprising to the modern reader that God’s Word says so much about sexual intimacy. Sex and sexuality, after all, are part of that isolated realm of personal freedom, on which no one has the right to impose restrictions. God, however, as the creator of human sexuality does impose boundaries on what is right and good sex and what destructive sex is. Leviticus 18 gives some specific restrictions to the people of God regarding their sexual intimacy, but this chapter is about more than just sex. It is about being careful not to lose their distinctiveness as the people of God. Obedience to God’s sexual ethic means that His people will stand apart in the world.
Chapter 18 can be broken down into three sections, each of which follows the typical Suzerain Treaty style of the ancient world. A Suzerianty was a term originally applied to the Ottoman Empire, but the model has been more widely utilized in the ancient world. The contract was established by a sovereign nation over a subservient people. John Frame explains:
In this literary form, a great king (a suzerain) formulates a treaty with a lesser king (a vassal). The great king is the author. He sets the terms of the relationship. The document regularly includes certain elements: (1) the name of the great king, identifying him as the author of the document: “I am king such-and-such”; (2) an historical prologue, in which the great king tells the vassal what benefits he has brought the vassal in the past; (3) the stipulations, or laws that the vassal is expected to obey in gratefulness to love or be exclusively loyal to the suzerain and particular commands indicating the ways in which this loyalty was to be expressed); (4) the sanctions, or blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience; and (5) continuity, or provisions for public reading of the treaty, royal succession, adjudication of disputes, etc. (The Doctrine of God, 31)
These five elements, which Frame outlines here – borrowing from Meredith Kline (The Structure of Biblical Authority) – can be found in Leviticus 18 as well. So, for example, there is an introduction of the name of the great sovereign (v. 2, 4, and 5). There is a historical context for the covenant (v. 3), and the basic covenantal stipulations (v. 4), along with the promised blessing for obedience (v. 5). Verses 6-23 make up the bulk of the chapter and they detail the rules and guidelines of the covenant obligation. We might break the passage down as follows:
Introduction (v. 1-5)
Covenant Obligation (v. 6-23)
Warning About Judgment (v. 24-30)
A simple survey of each section will serve us well in understanding the main thesis.