The Morally Sensitive Land

April 8, 2024

Leading up to this verse, is a list of prohibitions. More specifically, the first 21 verses of chapter 20 of Leviticus are a list of prohibitions against a range of pagan idolatrous practices and immoral sexual relationships. This list is followed by a warning to avoid these immoral behaviors, which were widely practiced by the Canaanite peoples, lest the land spit us out.

Then comes our verse. With this context in mind, let’s ask a few questions about our verse. 

First, the redundancy in the verse is clear. Why does it say, “you shall inherit the land” and then immediately “and I will give it to you to inherit it”? This second phrase seems purely repetitious. Why doesn’t the verse simply say, “You shall inherit their land, a land flowing with milk and honey,” without the words “and I will give it to you to inherit it”?

Second, the land of Israel is referred to as “a land flowing with milk and honey,” in several verses in the Bible. But this descriptive phrase is still quite rare. What is the relevance of this praise of the land here? What does it have to do with the warning against immorality and paganism? 

Finally, our verse is followed by a prohibition against certain forbidden unclean foods. That verse is then followed by this:

Now, reread the verse we are studying. Why is this message that God has distinguished Israel from the nations included in our verse and then restated two verses later as the Bible concludes the chapter? 

The point of this verse is to tell us something unique about the land of Israel. Namely, that the land of Israel responds to the moral behavior of those who live on it. Moreover, it is well documented that for the centuries when the Jewish people were in exile, the land of Israel was mostly desolate and uninhabitable. Testimonies from travelers throughout the centuries attest to this fact. It is only since the Jewish people returned to the land that it has begun to bloom again. 

Amazingly, this relationship of the land of Israel to the Jewish people is foretold by the prophets of the Bible. We see it in the prophetic warning of the exile as well as in the prophecies of return and redemption. The land of Israel flourishes for the nation of Israel. For example look at these two different verses. First, from Leviticus, and then from Ezekiel.

We do our part; God does His

With this in mind, let’s read our original verse carefully. As we pointed out above, the verse does not say, “You shall inherit their land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Rather, it repeats the promise of inheritance. 

First the verse states that the nation of Israel will inherit the land of the Canaanites. It is the job of the nation of Israel to seize the land from the Canaanite peoples, or from whoever takes it again in the future. Then, once the nation of Israel has taken the land, God will respond and will do His part by turning it once again into “a land flowing with milk and honey.” That’s why the verse states “And I will give it to you to inherit, a land flowing with milk and honey,” after already telling us that “You shall inherit the land.” In other words, first the verse commands Israel to take the land. Then God will affirm Israel’s possession of the land by making it flourish under Jewish ownership.

But there’s another lesson here as well. First the verse tells us to take the land, “You shall inherit their land.” As we mentioned, the Canaanites were an extremely depraved and pagan population. God clearly wanted the war to conquer the land to simultaneously be an all-out war on paganism and immorality. But lest we think that, once we conquered it, the land is ours as the result of our own military conquest, the verse reminds us that it is only ours so long as God grants it to us. 

Let’s review these points by looking again at the verse:

You shall inherit their land commandment to conquer the land from the Canaanites

And I will give it to you to inherit even after conquest, it is still only ours as a gift from God

A land flowing with milk and honey the land us abundant only so long as it is God’s gift to us

Now we can answer our final question. We asked why our verse ends with God’s statement that He distinguished us from the other nations. The answer should now be clear. In this context, God was telling the people of Israel that unlike other nations whose land is either abundant or desolate regardless of their moral behavior, the nation of Israel is different. They are a people who will either keep their land or go into exile based on their avoidance of immorality and idol worship.

Once again, we see that just as the nation of Israel is governed by different rules from other nations, so too, the land of Israel is governed differently from other lands.

The land of Israel is God’s special chosen land. The normal rules of nature do not apply. The land of Israel responds to the moral and ethical behavior of those who live in it.

Israeli soldiers are risking their lives to protect us all from Islamic terrorism. But they need our help. Sign up for Israel365 Action to receive updates on how YOU can help fight Hamas and its supporters in the United States and around the world. 

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email

Recent Posts
God’s Conscious Concern for the Land
Bread or Dreams?
The Thirty-Five Davids and Two Thousand Goliaths

Related Articles

By: Rabbi Elie Mischel

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email