Leviticus 20
Pulpit Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
The subject of chapter 18, is resumed in this chapter; but that which was before considered as sin only is now regarded as crime, and penalties are attached according to the heinousness of the offense. For example, the sin of "giving of his seed to Molech," or which is the same thing, "letting any of his seed pass through the fire to Molech," had been forbidden as a sin in chapter Leviticus 18:21; now it is condemned as a crime. The various penalties assigned in this chapter are

(1) burning with fire (verse 14);

(2) stoning with stones (verses 2, 27);

(3) being put to death in a manner not specified (verses 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16);

(4) being cut off from among his people, either by God himself (verses 4, 5, 6) or by an agency not specified (verses 17, 18);

(5) bearing his iniquity (verses 17, 19, 20);

(6) childlessness (verses 20, 21).

The first of these penalties, burning with fire, does not mean that those on whom it was inflicted were burnt alive, but that their dead bodies were burnt after they had been stoned to death, as in the case of Achan (Joshua 7:25). It is the punishment for taking a mother and daughter together into the same harem (verse 14). Stoning with stones is appointed for crimes which are at once offenses against religion and morals, viz. giving of his seed to Molech (verse 2), and witchcraft (verse 27). The other form of putting to death, which no doubt was strangling, is the penalty assigned to cursing parents (verse 9), adultery (verse 10), marriage or intercourse with a stepmother (verse 11) or stepdaughter (verse 12), the sin of Sodom (verse 13), and bestiality (verses 15, 16). Cutting off from his people may be effected either by death (verses 4, 5, and perhaps 6), which is the penalty for Molech-worship, connivance at Molech-worship, and dealing with witches; or by excommunication (verses 17, 18), which was the punishment for intercourse with a sister, or with one who was unclean by reason of her monthly sickness (see Exodus 31:14). The phrase, bearing his iniquity, means that the man continues in the state of a criminal until he has been cleansed either by suffering the punishment of his offense or making atonement for it, which sometimes he might, sometimes he might not, do. The man who committed incest with a sister would "bear his iniquity" (verse 17), because he would be put in a state of excommunication without permission of restoration by means of sacrificial offerings. And so with the man who took his aunt by blood (verse 19) or by marriage (verse 20) as his wife, - he would not be allowed to recover his status by offering sacrifice. Childlessness, the punishment for marrying an uncle's or brother's wife, probably means that in those cases the offender's children should not be counted as his own, but should be entered in the genealogical register as his uncle's or his brother's children. (Cf. Deuteronomy 25:10, where it is noticeable that the penalty is retained, even though the marriage with the brother's wife, which had been prohibited in general, had in the particular case become a duty for family or tribal reasons.)
Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones.
Verses 2, 3. - The close connection between giving of his seed unto Molech and defiling my sanctuary, and profaning my holy name, is explained and illustrated by Ezekiel in the judgment on Aholah and Aholibah. "They have caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass for them through the fire, to devour them. Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths. For when they had slain their children to their idols, then they came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of mine house" (Ezekiel 23:37-39). Not only was the juxtaposition and combination of the worship of Molech and Jehovah an offense to him whose name is Jealous, but at the time that Molech-worship was carried on in the valley of Hinnom, idols were set up in the court of the temple itself, as we learn from the Book of Kings and from Jeremiah. "But they set their abominations in the house, which is called by my Name, to defile it. And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which! commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin" (Jeremiah 32:34, 35). And of Manasseh it is related, "He built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord said, In Jerusalem will I put my Name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he made his son pass through the fire" (2 Kings 21:4-6).
And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name.
And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not:
Verses 4, 5. - There is to be no connivance with Molech-worship. The penalty is death, and is to be carried out by the proper tribunals, whose business it was to see that the stoning took place. So in Deuteronomy the duty of killing those who entice to idolatry is laid down. "Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shall thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: but thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people" (Deuteronomy 13:8, 9). In the case of Molech-worship God declares that, if the tribunals of the nation fail to adjudge the penalty of death to the offender, he will himself lake the matter into his hands, and cut him off with his family and all that follow him in his sin of unfaithfulness.
Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people.
And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.
Verse 6. - God will also himself cut off from among his people any that, not content with lawful and godly knowledge, turn after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them.
Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God.
Verses 7, 8. - A positive command, Sanctify yourselves therefore, and he ye holy: for I am the Lord your God, is introduced early in the list of penalties to show what is the main purpose of the latter. The only way in which the nation can recover holiness lost by the sins of its members, is by the punishment of the latter, or by their purification by means of sacrifice, according to the nature of the offense.
And ye shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am the LORD which sanctify you.
For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.
Verse 9. - See above, the note on chapter Leviticus 19:14, which shows how God's word is made of none effect by man's traditions. God says that a man who curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death. Human authority, incontrovertible throughout a great part of Christendom, declares that in most cases it is no grave sin.
And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
Verse 10. - The Hebrew punishment for adultery is more severe than that of most other nations. Death is again pronounced as the penalty of both adulterer and adulteress in Deuteronomy 22:22. The crime is that of a man with a married woman, whether the man be married or not; it is not that of a married man with an unmarried woman, which, in a country where polygamy was allowed, could not be regarded in the same light.
And the man that lieth with his father's wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
Verses 11, 12. - It should be noted that intercourse with a stepmother or daughter-in-law are put, by the punishment inflicted upon them, on the same level with adultery and unnatural crimes (verses 10, 13, 15, 16).
And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them.
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
Verses 13-19. - (See Leviticus 18:22, 17, 23, 9, 19, 12.)
And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you.
And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast.
And if a woman approach unto any beast, and lie down thereto, thou shalt kill the woman, and the beast: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
And if a man shall take his sister, his father's daughter, or his mother's daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness; it is a wicked thing; and they shall be cut off in the sight of their people: he hath uncovered his sister's nakedness; he shall bear his iniquity.
And if a man shall lie with a woman having her sickness, and shall uncover her nakedness; he hath discovered her fountain, and she hath uncovered the fountain of her blood: and both of them shall be cut off from among their people.
And thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother's sister, nor of thy father's sister: for he uncovereth his near kin: they shall bear their iniquity.
And if a man shall lie with his uncle's wife, he hath uncovered his uncle's nakedness: they shall bear their sin; they shall die childless.
Verses 20, 21. - They shall die childless;... they shall be childless. "It cannot be supposed that a perpetual miracle was to be maintained through all the ages of Israel's history; but the meaning evidently is that the children of such marriages should be reckoned, not to their actual father, but to the former husband of the woman. In the strong feeling of the Israelites in regard to posterity, this penalty seems to have been sufficient" (Gardiner).
And if a man shall take his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be childless.
Ye shall therefore keep all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: that the land, whither I bring you to dwell therein, spue you not out.
Verses 22, 23. - The fact of the nations of Canaan being abhorred by God because they committed all these things shows that the Levitical code forbidding all these things was no part of any special law for that nation alone, but a republication of that Law which is binding on all nations because written on the conscience. The prohibited degrees in the Book of Leviticus form a part of the moral, not of the ceremonial, law, and are, therefore, of permanent and universal, not only of temporary and national, obligation.
And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.
But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the LORD your God, which have separated you from other people.
Verses 24-26. - The Israelites are to avoid all defilement, moral and ceremonial, because they are God's own possession, separated from other people, and holy unto him.
Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean: and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean.
And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.
A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.
Verse 27. - Those that deal in witchcraft are to be stoned.

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