Discrimination in the Bible — is God a racist?

Leviticus 20-21

James says we should show no favoritism.  Paul writes about how salvation is accessible to both Jews and Gentiles.

But when it comes to post-Egypt Israel, man, God isn’t messing around. God commands everyone to isolate themselves from everything that’s not about Him. Doesn’t that sound pretentious?

This chapter contains the highly controversial, maligned verse about homosexuality (20:13). Having sex with other dudes is punishable by death, as well as a variety of other sexual encounters other people would find much more atrocious (sister-in-law, aunt, daughter, etc.)

The regulations get even tighter for priests: no shaving your head, cutting your beard, marrying outside of Israel, wearing torn clothing, or having a bad hygiene day.

And if you’re deformed, good luck getting to the temple curtain.  You’re not allowed — someone has to make the sacrifice on your behalf.

Skeptics have a field day with these verses because the text suggests extreme punishment for seemingly trivial infractions. Why would God do this?  Surely an all-knowing God wouldn’t set up such strange laws for us to follow, and He would never favor one race over another.

If you look more closely, you’ll begin to understand that these laws are not for us, specifically, but about the Israelites. Apart from an unsettling list of death penalties, the featured reading in Leviticus has a familiar refrain: be holy.

The purpose of these laws is to assert holiness for God’s people. Because they’re a new nation, they have a reputation to uphold and a future territory to populate. It wouldn’t do them much good if they started acting like their surrounding enemies. Their lack of survivability would be a terrible testimony to God’s faithfulness and the extent of His grace through several generations.

A text like this should prompt us to examine how we are perceived by “outsiders” — do we look different at all, or are we participating in the same things that would be expected of everyone else?

Especially as Thanksgiving rolls around (and we plunge headlong into “shopping season”) we can quickly descend into gluttony and self-indulgent tunnel vision without thinking about what this looks like to observers.  Let’s avoid giving other people ammo — let’s stand for Jesus Christ and His character.

As for the Israelites, history proves that their preservation and obedience has been paramount to their survival.  The countless discrimination and genocide the Jewish people have endured is without parallel — without these commands to “behave” in Leviticus, Israel would have ceased to exist several times over.

Likewise, we as Christians can be tempted to pattern our behavior after our culture — if we’re not careful and we ignore God’s commands to us, we will eventually “blend in” and be indistinguishable.  And that’s the opposite of what God would have for us.


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  1. Very well put. I especially enjoyed the next to last paragraph…”without these commands to “behave” in Leviticus, Israel would have ceased to exist several times over.” Goes very well with a theme I will be addressing myself soon. 🙂


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