January 26, 2020 The Sin of Fornication

The Sin of Fornication

Scripture reading: Genesis 34:1-7.

Jacob, with his twelve sons and daughters, was travelling in the land of Canaan. This land was already promised to his grandfather Abraham and to Isaac his father. Soon after this incident it would be promised to him as well.  At the time of this defiling of his daughter Dinah, they are far from possessing the land. They are few in number surrounded by pagan cultures.

It is a sad incident in the life of this family.  Something is said by Moses, the author, that is germane to understanding the sin of fornication.

The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done. 1

We see that when Dinah’s brothers come in from their work and learn of it they are indignant. One becomes indignant when one perceives an injustice has been done. They also became angry. Not just angry, the text says very angry. We can understand this. God has put a sense of protection in the hearts of siblings for one another and girls, being particularly vulnerable in the male-dominated world of the Ancient Near East, would be especially looked after. They were fuming, as the popular expression goes. This anger would move them to take vengeance upon the perpetrator, his family, and even this entire tribe of Hivites. But note the second half of this verse:

because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done. 

When Shechem had sexual relations with Dinah it was “an outrageous thing.” The NASB has, “disgraceful thing.” Then, these words: “Such a thing must not be done.”

Such a thing must not be done!

Here is the operative question. Must sex before marriage not be done because it was just a social norm, like not spitting on the sidewalk or making sure you tip your waitress? Or, must it not be done because God has commanded it? After all, social norms vary from society to society. What is considered taboo in one culture can even be viewed as virtuous in another. If it just a custom, we are free to pick it up or leave it behind according to our preferences. But, if it is a command of the Living God then we must not only obey but we must raise it up and cherish it.

This is the first incident in the Bible regarding fornication. We can receive a definitive answer to our question by simply fast-forwarding to the law given to Moses by God in the book of Deuteronomy.

“If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her 14 and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,’ 15 then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. 16 And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; 17 and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city. 18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him, 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days. 20 But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 2

God orders penalties commensurate with the crime. The more serious the crime the more strict the penalty to be administered. In this state of affairs, if the wife of the accusing husband was innocent, that is, if she did not have sex before marriage, then the husband would be punished for accusing her falsely. His punishment would be severe. He would be whipped publicly and made a spectacle of in the eyes of the entire community. Then, since that is not enough he must also pay 100 shekels. In Moses’ day, 100 shekels was a full years wages. Presently, in the U.S. the average income for one person is $31,000/year (Average household income is $63,000 per anum, but this is because most households have more than one person employed.) It would be like receiving a $31,000 fine today. Unlike today, the fine had to be paid,

What if the woman was found to be guilty of having sex before marriage? Then she must be put to death! This is not man’s law. This is God’s law! Some may think that this is harsh. Why do some think its harsh? Because they think like men rather than thinking like God! They are trying to assess the fairness or rightness of a law by their own moral compass rather than by God’s revelation! The problem is that our moral compass is not only corrupted by our sinful nature, so that we have a bent to make sin less serious than it is, but it is also influenced by the culture around us. The culture that we are in, in the West, accepts fornication as normal. Even if we reject that estimation because we are Christians, we are still influenced by it.

We must cast aside our guesses and receive God’s estimation of fornication. It is serious! It is so serious that the death penalty is called for.

Let us not hear the worn out refrain, “But that was the Old Testament.” God’s moral laws do not change! It is only the ceremonial laws that have been done away.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 3

Only ceremonial laws can be fulfilled by the future action to which they pointed taking place. And so, the lamb being sacrificed for sin according to the law of Moses was pointing to the sacrifice for Christ Himself. Once Christ was sacrificed the symbol is done away. The reality has come. Moral laws live in perpetuity because they reflect the very character of God.

Fornication was most serious under the old covenant and it remains most serious under the new covenant.

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 4

Therefore, we have seen from the three passages that we have considered that:

[1.] We must flee fornication because God has commanded it and God sees it as most serious. He revealed it as most grave under the old covenant and it is most grave under the new.

[2.] We must flee fornication because the consequences of this sin are dire. Why does God even give us this command, the command to remain pure before marriage? Let us return to our passage about Dinah and Shechem.

And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. 3 And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. 5

Notice what has occurred. First, Shechem saw her. He just saw her and, obviously, she was beautiful because he then forced himself upon her. He just saw her. Then, once he had sexual relations with her his “soul was drawn to Dinah.” This is the way God has designed us. The sexual act creates intimacy between people. It draws them to one another. This is why it must be restricted to marriage. God’s plan is for us to be emotionally one with only one other person in life, the death of a spouse being the exception (I Cor. 7:39). 

This creation of intimacy is true even when the initial act is carried out in lust. Shechem did not know Dinah before he defiled her. His act was an act of lust. But, once it was done, his soul was drawn to her.

You must see, then, the inherent dangers in this sin. There are at least three. First, those with whom we commit fornication will have a place in our heart. This may result in a sense of loss if we do not marry that person. More, it may bring memories up of that person if we marry someone else. Neither of those experiences are pleasant. They are disruptive to our psyche.

Second, if we commit this sin often during our youth (that is the time when we are most vulnerable to this temptation) then we diminish the positive effect sexual union will have upon us when we do marry. One pastor has used this illustration to describe this effect:

“Adhesive tape is not made for repetitive use. The strongest bond adhesive tape is capable of making is formed with the first surface to which it is applied. You can remove the tape and reapply it to other surfaces several times, and it will still adhere. However, with every application, some of the adhesiveness has been compromised. Finally, if you continue the practice long enough, there will not be enough adhesiveness left to make the tape stick to any surface. God intended that the bond between mates be the closest and strongest one they are capable of forming. That is why Paul makes it very clear that the body is not for fornication.”6

Third, there is the real danger of sexually transmitted disease. Because our society has become promiscuous, the number of people that have an STD has sky-rocketed and, if one does not obey the Lord in this area, the chances of getting one is high.

Nineteen million new cases of a sexually transmitted infection happen each year in the U.S.!

Right now, 25% of the population has an incurable STD.

Also, 25% of the people who know they have an STD do not tell others but continue to have sex.

It is estimated that 49% of the people who have an STD do not know that they have it. For some diseases, like Herpes, this percentage is even higher. 85% of he people who have Herpes do not know that they have it!

Some of the STDs are deadly, such as AIDS and syphilis. 13% of the people who have AIDS do not know that they have it.

Some STDs, like HPV, greatly increase the risk of cancer.

Having sex outside of marriage is like playing Russian roulette. You do not know who has what and even they may not know that they have a disease.

God, as always, gives his laws to make life better for us, not to rain on our parade.

We must flee fornication because the consequences of this sin are dire, both physically and emotionally.

[3.] We must flee fornication because this sin will keep us out of the kingdom of God.

We must prepare for the age to come because not all followers of Jesus will inherit the kingdom. Many Christians are under the grossly mistaken impression that all believers will enter the kingdom, regardless of how they live. They may make an exception for false professors – those who have made a mere profession of faith but who have not been born again. Of course, if a profession of faith is empty, if no change of heart or life has taken place, then all agree that not only will that person not enter the kingdom, but neither will they ever see God. Their destiny is the lake of fire.

Yet, it is also true that not all genuine believers will inherit the kingdom. In Ephesians 5 we read:

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.7

Paul said it clearly, if we participate in this sin then we will not inherit the kingdom. I have shown elsewhere that inheriting the kingdom and entering the kingdom are the same thing. If we engage in this sin we will miss out on the kingdom and, instead will be disciplined by the Lord until the New Heavens and the New Earth come. That is a long time. It will be at least 1000 years!

This warning is for all of us, but especially the young people. 

[4. Application] Knowing the seriousness of this sin, what ought we to do?

There are two things we must do. First, we must guard our own lives. We must flee fornication. To flee means to run away from it. When even the possibility of fornication arises we must flee that, too, because we are weak.

After my four years of active duty in the USAF, I volunteered for two years of reserve duty. While I was in the reserves I took a short 30-day assignment to Edwards AFB in Southern California. Soon upon my arrival I attended a Wednesday night Bible Study at a nearby church. Afterwards, a lady a few years my senior started talking and had a pleasant conversation. When she learned that I had just arrived to the state she asked if I wanted to stop by her house for coffee and cookies since she lived just a few blocks from the church meeting house. I accepted her invitation. It turns out she lived in a mansion and she was quite well off, owning a couple of restaurants in the Apple Valley area. She brought out coffee and we talked for some time. And then, she propositioned me. It turned out that her husband had passed away about a year prior and she was lonely and you know the story. As tactfully as I could, I turned her down. But, I was tempted. In fact, I did not truly flee the sin because I should not have even gone to her house. Single persons of the opposite sex ought not to be alone, especially at night, in houses, apartments, or anywhere else. I was still a new Christian at that time. I have since learned to flee better than I did.

Do not put yourself in situations of temptation. When even the possibility of fornication arises we must flee because we are weak.

The other thing that we must do is to teach our children and grandchildren the importance of obeying the Lord in the area of sexual purity. Even if they are grown, we can still teach them. Many Christians of the older generation were brought up with these values even if they were not raised in a Christian home, because society itself frowned upon illicit relations. Those days are long gone. Older Christians may assume that their children or grandchildren may automatically know that sex outside of marriage is a sin. Maybe they did tell them about it once or twice. But we are up against a whole world that says it is OK. Their friends will tell them it is OK. You must teach on it and reinforce it.

Let the word of God be our guide in this life. And, God’s word says, “Flee fornication.”



1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ge 34:7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
2 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Dt 22:13–21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
3 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:17–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
4 The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., 1 Co 6:18). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
5 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ge 34:2–3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
6 Dr. Richard Dobbins
7 The New King James Version. (1982). (Eph 5:3–7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.