William Kelly Major Works Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,Leviticus Chapter 20
ISRAEL'S PRACTICAL SANCTIFICATION.
As the preceding chapter insisted on what was good and comely as became the people of Jehovah and in His name, the solemn and sufficient authority for every requirement, so in our chapter it is chiefly a guard against the evils, often enormous and unnatural, to which Israel was exposed through contact with their idolatrous neighbours. The cruel rites of infanticide is the first to be denounced; it was practised by the Ammonites on this side and by the Phoenicians on that, and so by the Carthaginians and others too, who boasted loudly of their civilization.
" 1 And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, 2 thou shalt say also to the children of Israel, Every one of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth of his seed to Molech shall certainly be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones. 3 And I will set my face against that man, sad will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed to Molech, so as to make my sanctuary unclean and to profane my holy name. 4 And if the people of the land in any way hide their eyes from that man, when he giveth of his seed to Molech, that they kill him not, 5 Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people. 6 And the soul that turneth to necromancers and to soothsayers, to go a whoring after them, I will set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people. 7 Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I [am] Jehovah, your God. 8 And ye shall observe my statutes and do them: I [am] Jehovah who sanctify you" (vers. 1-8).
Nothing more profoundly marks the difference between God's word and men's thoughts in all ages than their levity as to idols and strange gods, and His abhorrence of it, especially in His own people. It may not be any deliberate intention to abandon His worship; it may only be, what they count a venial thing, occasional conformity to idolatry while still professing His name. But God rejects absolutely any such unhallowed compromise, quite apart from the danger, for those who allow it, of utter revolt from Him. It strikes at His majesty, at holiness and truth, and is intolerable in His eyes.
The Israelite ought to have known that it was from out of this abomination that Abraham was chosen and called as a separate witness, he and his seed, to the one true and living God (Joshua 24:3). Every child of his was bound at all cost to be faithful on pain of forfeiting, not only all his privileges, but his life. Not Israel only was bound: the strangers that sojourned in their midst were under the same obligation. Whoever devoted his offspring to Molech must die by the ignominious death of stoning; and this to make the people of the land take their active part in personally executing the sentence. In this and no other way was the idolater to be put to death, that all around might share His horror and clear themselves of the evil.
Still more impressive is the repeated intimation in vers. 3 and 5 that Jehovah sets His face against that man and will cut him off, because such wickedness defiles His sanctuary and profanes His holy Name. It is not the cruel barbarity toward their own children, or the children of others, into which Satan loved to draw those who worshipped false gods that were no God. But God must abdicate His own glory and being if such a sin could be passed over without His avenging the insult by the hands of Israel. Even such as shut their eyes to spare the guilty exposed themselves to the like doom (4, 5).
No doubt the Christian is entirely apart from the legal system and is called to the relationship of a son with the Father in total separation from the world. He belongs to the Lord Jesus who laid the foundation of Christianity in the cross whereon He bore our sins and suffered, Just for unjust. He is united to Him, rejected. by Jew and Gentile, and glorified above on the Father's throne, and has thus the characteristic stamp of heavenly grace, as he waits for His coming to take him there. But when the Lord returns (and all His saints with Him in power and glory) to be King over all the earth, He will execute judgment on every evil, and destroy the wicked from before Him; while man universally consigns every idol to the moles and to the bats. They shall be utterly abolished, and false gods (real demons) lead astray no more for ever, even though Satan may still remain (restrained for a thousand years from mischief) to be finally punished at the end. But Jesus shall reign in righteousness and peace; and we shall reign with Him over the earth where we suffered with Him.
Nor is it only such an enormity as that of Molech. Turning after necromancers or such as had familiar spirits, and soothsayers or wizards, came under the same unsparing judgment of Jehovah (ver. 6): "I will set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from his people." How awful for professing Christians to tamper with such profanity! If Israel as an earthly people had thus to sanctify themselves and be holy, as under law, how much more have Christians under grace, who have Christ and all the written word their standard, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, to obey and please their God and Father!
ISRAEL'S PRACTICAL SANCTIFICATION.
The first place is given, as is meet, to heinous rebellion against Jehovah in an Israelite or a sojourner in their midst. This is followed up by an awfully dark list of enormous wickedness, which opens with reviling one's father and mother. Setting up one's own will against a parent's authority is akin in a lower way to renouncing the true God for a false one. Hence it is that not a few connect ver. 9 with the preceding paragraph rather than with the subsequent one. Indeed the "For" with which it begins, if so rendered, goes to support it. On the other hand, revolt from Jehovah makes a good division.
" 9 For everyone that curseth (or, revileth) his father and his mother shall surely be put to death; he hath cursed his father and his mother; his blood is upon him. 10 And a man that committeth adultery with a man's wife, that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. 11 And a 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 [is] upon them. 12 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 [is] upon them. 13 And if a man lie with a male, as he with a woman, both of them have committed abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood [is] upon them. 14 And if a man take a wife and her mother, it [is] enormity (or, incest) with fire shall they burn him and them, that there be no enormity among you. 15 And if a man lie with a beast for copulation, he shall surely be put to death; and ye shall kill the beast. 16 And if a woman approach unto any beast to gender with it, thou shalt kill the woman and the beast: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [is] upon them. 17 And if a man take his sister, his father's daughter, or his mother's daughter, and see her nakedness and she see his nakedness, it [is] a disgrace: and they shall be cut off before the eyes of the sons of their people. He hath uncovered his sister's nakedness; he shall bear his iniquity. 18 And if a man shall lie with a woman in her infirmity, and uncover her nakedness, he hath laid naked her flux, and she hath uncovered the fountain of her blood; and both of them shall be cut off from among their people. 19 And the nakedness of thy mother's sister and of thy father's sister thou shalt not uncover; for he hath laid naked his own flesh (or, near of kin): they shall bear their iniquity. 20 And if a man lie with his aunt, he hath uncovered his uncle's nakedness: they shall bear their sin; they shall die childless. 21 And if a man take his brother's wife, it is uncleanness; he hath uncovered his brother's nakedness: they shall be childless" (vers. 9-21).
Here then we commence with open and base dishonour to one's parents, which was to be punished with death. And the same sentence is pronounced upon the nearest and deepest wound one man can inflict on another, a sin not foully wrong only, but in despite of Jehovah who instituted married union from the beginning. His law was as extreme against these sins, as against what denied Himself.
But greater impurity prevailed among the heathen, and especially those who occupied the promised land. The sons of Israel too were soon to be exposed to their shameless example. He who gave them Canaan knew their hearts far better than they themselves did. Hence these solemn and painful denunciations of incest, etc. Flesh is the same root of vileness in a Jew as in a Gentile. Restraint may hinder its outbreak; but evil lusts are there, ready to carry away the impulsive and headstrong beyond all bounds.
The Lord Jesus is in every way the Saviour, not from divine punishment only but from sins In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of offences according to the riches of God's grace. But in Him we have life also, life eternal, for He is the Son, and gives nothing less than this life to everyone that believes on Him. And life in Christ is the indispensable basis of the new nature, and of our new relationships and duties, affections and privileges, crowned since redemption with the indwelling Spirit for the Christian and for the church, that both might have an immediate link with God and power from Him.
Is the flesh then gone in fact? By no means; but it is gone for faith, as condemned by God in Christ's cross, where our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin. We are entitled therefore to say henceforth, that we died with Him, not only to and from sin, but from the religious elements of the world and its philosophy; and our life is hid with Him in God. We are not of the world as He is not; and we await His coming, not to be unclothed, as we are at death, but to be clothed upon (2 Cor. 5) with our eternal house from heaven, when the mortal shall be swallowed up of life. Meanwhile we are exhorted and bound to mortify our members which are upon the earth, instead of gratifying unclean lust or passion; also to put off those of violence, and not to lie one to another. We have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man that is being renewed unto full knowledge according to the image of Him that created him. Thus Christ is the all, and in all.
But for practice everything turns on our dependence by faith on Christ every day and all through it. Nor is anything more dangerous or ruinous than the highest truth without such dependence. Apart from Him we can do nothing, On the other hand, If ye abide in Me, and I in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall come to pass to you. So even the Ephesian saints, addressed in the most elevated of the Pauline Epistles, were told, Let the stealer steal no more. Let no corrupt word go out of your mouth. Be not drunk with wine wherein is riot and debauchery. What dishonour to the Lord, what pleasure to Satan, that they should be entrapped into these evils or even worse! What need to be kept of God! For these words of the apostle were addressed to saints already led on to the highest privileges, blessed as it is said with every spiritual blessing in Christ, and this in the heavenlies.
Such blessing is the fruit of sovereign grace in its fullest exercise. So it is that the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ put honour on the Son and His work of redemption, just after His earthly people sought His shame even to the death of the cross. After this it was in divine wisdom that, as the Jews thus cut themselves off from, by adding to their old idolatry their still more guilty rejection of, their own Messiah, God brought out the mystery hidden from ages and from generations. If Satan united unbelieving Jew and Gentile in crucifying the Lord of glory, God united as the new wonder believing Jew and Gentile in one body by the Spirit, the body here below of Christ the heavenly Head at His own right hand.
But the flesh in each member remains incurably bad. Grace does not ameliorate, but makes us a new creation in Christ, as God condemned sin in the flesh when Jesus who knew no sin was made sin for us on the tree. Thus we can say that we died to sin with Him, as we are now in Him who is risen and glorified. Therefore are we called to our new life by the faith of Him, and to treat every movement of sin in our members as vile, and inconsistent with our new relationship as Christians.
ISRAEL'S PRACTICAL SANCTIFICATION.
The closing paragraph of the chapter is of a more general character, and opens with that obedience to which Israel was called. The law given through Moses defined it. If Jehovah called a people to be His, they must be conformed to His word. They had to learn that, being sinners, they had no power to please Him, but continually failed. If they kept not His covenant and refused to walk in His law; if they forgot His doings, and His wondrous works that He had shown them in Egypt, in the desert, and in the land of Canaan, still less did they judge themselves and remember His promises or look on to the Messiah in faith. And thus their unbelief has brought on them the sad fate, to be driven out of the goodly land as the Amorite should have been before them. Can they deny its righteousness? It was not only Israel greedily lapsing into idolatry as keenly as the Gentiles, but even Judah's favoured remnant sent back to their land by Cyrus according to the prophets guilty of rejecting their own Messiah, and the chief priests professing the apostasy of the people in the renegade sentence, "We have no king but Caesar." What could God do to them in adequate retribution, but send the Romans to take away both their place and their nation?
Nevertheless scripture is no less clear that, if God tells us the sad tale of their ruin through trusting themselves and unbelief of His grace, He will surely and soon work for His own glory in the Messiah risen and exalted to prove Himself their merciful and faithful Saviour God. For He will restore health to His people, in spite of the multitude of their iniquity, and will heal them of their wounds however deserved. Do men call them an outcast, and say that none cares for Zion? Thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will turn again the captivity of Jacob's tents, and will have compassion on his dwelling-places, and city and palace and temple shall rise never more to fall as long as earth endures. And everlasting joy shall be theirs under the reign of Jehovah-Jesus. Nor shall they be small but exalted beyond all nations, and their oppressors punished by Jehovah. Not the Jews only, but all the families of Israel shall be His people as they never were, and He their God in sovereign mercy rejoicing over judgment.
But here we have the humbling story of their responsibility before they are brought to say, Blessed is He that cometh in Jehovah's name. No believer should wonder that "this generation" came to nought - that such a fig-tree bore no fruit, nothing but leaves. Grace will create a generation to come. No doubt that sovereign grace has called in us of the Gentiles who believe, while the Jew holds out in his incredulity; but the same grace will bless them, beginning with a remnant when we are caught up, and issuing, after awful judgments which cut off the wicked, in His people being righteous and mighty, the days of their mourning ended for ever.
" 22 And ye shall observe all my statutes, and all my judgments and do them, that the land whither I bring you to dwell therein vomit you not out. 23 And ye shall not walk in the customs of the nation which I cast out before you; for all these things they did, and therefore I abhorred them. 24 And I said to you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you for a possession, a land flowing with milk and honey: I [am] Jehovah your God who separated you from the peoples. 25 And ye shall make a separation between the clean beast and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast or by bird, or by anything which creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. 26 And ye shall be holy to me; for I Jehovah am holy, and have separated you from the peoples that ye should be mine. 27And if there be a man or a woman in whom is necromancy or soothsaying, they shall certainly be put to death: they shall stone them with stones; their blood [is] upon them" (vers. 22-27).
Yet there stands written not less indelibly the history of Israel in flagrant derelictions, notwithstanding a patience on Jehovah's part as admirable as it is affecting. They fell in their way like Adam in his. And Christendom has followed not less but more than man or Israel. Happy they who find in the Second man the only refuge, salvation, and rest for the guilty and lost. "This is the victory which hath gained the victory over the world - our faith. And who is he that gaineth the victory over the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?"
Those who looked for His coming alone sought to please God in heeding His statutes and doing them. They abhorred the unnatural horrors of Canaan. They felt God's goodness in giving them the land flowing with milk and honey. They bowed to each mark in daily life whereby He had severed them from their heathen neighbours, and recognised that they were bound to be holy to Him, because He was holy who separated them from all peoples to be His people. And their hearts would go with His burning anger against such as in the face of all lent themselves to the old enemy in necromancy and soothsaying as unworthy to live in His land.
The great error of foes, and even friends sometimes, lies in making this to be a question for Christians. It was really so for Israel. Christians are a heavenly people, with a calling on high, which the New Testament defines and expounds. Their responsibility is wholly distinct, being under grace, not law, as Israel was, if we defer to the authority of the apostle of the Gentiles, as we surely ought. Yet it is our privilege to profit by the teaching of the older scriptures, and to draw out the divine principles which underlie even the least shadow of the Levitical economy.
But we stand on a ground different from that of Israel. The coming of the Son of God and accomplishment of redemption made the way for this. The rent veil has for the present closed the Mosaic system, and opened the door for the better hope by which we draw nigh to God, as no Jew could. We are now free and exhorted to enter boldly into the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus. He is become surety of a better covenant. There are moral truths which ever abide as faith in God and obedience of His will; but as Israel had marked peculiarities, so has the church what rises immeasurably higher, and distinct even from what Israel will have in the day of the millennial glory. However blessed, and they will be so richly, they do not cease to be an earthly people in that day. We are even now heavenly, according to 1 Corinthians 15:48; and then we shall bear the image of the Heavenly One, instead of suffering with Him here till He come again.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is very express on this change, owing to the slowness of the saints who had been Jews to appreciate the "new" wine. Nor is this indisposition at all confined to Israelites; it is to man's heart natural, which grace is not. For as the Lord Himself said, No one having drunk old wine wishes for new, for he saith, The old is better (or, good). But those accustomed to a religion from God, like the Jews, found especial difficulty in receiving higher truth. Hence the assiduous care in that Epistle to show from first to last the superiority of that which is presented to our faith in Christ, the Son at the right hand of the majesty on high, after having made purification of sins. God provided (or, foresaw) some better thing for us.
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.
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:
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.
Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.