After the Exodus, God placed a very simple, yet profound, set of expectations upon the children
of Israel. He said, “I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 18:2-4). Consider how this text is applicable to us:
Don’t live according to the familiar ways of the past. Estimates are that there were more than 2-3 million people that exited Egypt (Ex. 12:37). While some of the freed slaves may have had a general idea about what was taking place in God’s grand scheme of things, it’s reasonable to expect that at least some (if not most) of the Jews were probably “going with the flow” of the changes of the day. Undoubtedly, the emancipated slaves were happy to be free, but that didn’t mean that they had completely left Egypt behind.
Egypt was literally all these generations had ever known. In fact, shortly after their escape, the people began to complain about their circumstances, actually longing to be back in Egypt where they could eat freely of the bounties (Num. 11:4-6). But not only did they look back longingly for the bounties of the land, it seems that they also had a significant connection to the idolatrous religion of the land. Think: Moses was on top of Sinai, the Jews having barely made it out of Egypt, and they were already fashioning an idolatrous golden calf (Ex. 32:1-4)! God had never commanded such a thing of these people – where would they have gotten this idea? It’s safe to say that the familiar ways of their Egyptian past were on their minds.
If we’re not careful, we can do the same thing today. We can become very comfortable with the ways that things have always been done; and even when a more righteous and holy approach to something is presented to us, we sometimes resist and fight against it because of its conflict with the things that we’re used to. We should never do something, only because that is the way it has always been done.
However, don’t live according to the intriguing ways of the future. On the flip side of the coin, there is danger in always looking to the future as though the standards and societal norms in that future time or place will be better. Israel certainly had reason to abandon everything that had influenced them in Egypt – but that didn’t mean that they should accept the ways of the people in Canaan. Unfortunately, Bible students know that Israel did this very thing. They worshiped the Gods of the land (Jud. 2:12-13), intermarried with the peoples of the land (Judges 3:6), and eventually demanded a king like the nations of the land (1 Samuel 8:4-20). Simply put, they wanted to look like the people around them.
Similarly, if we’re not careful, we may judge the shortcomings and failings of the past and quickly turn to a new standard that, while different, may be equally as sinful. It’s certainly right to abandon the ways of the past that are sinful, but unless we land in a new place that is righteous, the change will have been for naught.
Instead, live according to the steadfast ways of the eternal God. The expectation that God gives is this: “You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes…” Additionally, at both the front-end and back-end of the command to not live as the Egyptians or Canaanites, God asserts his authority with this statement: “I am the Lord your God.”
We will never go wrong when we simply do what God says – nothing more, and nothing less. So the question that we need to consider is this: am I following the gods of the people of the day, or am I following the God of eternity?