Lectionary Calendar
Friday, July 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 20

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-8

Idolatry and spiritism are the focus of this section. The people were to execute a Molech worshiper by stoning. If they failed to put him or her to death, God Himself would judge the guilty person with death. He would do this to the person who resorted to mediums or spiritists too since this practice sought information about the future from evil spirits rather than from God (cf. King Saul’s fate).

Verses 1-27

4. Punishments for serious crimes ch. 20

The preceding two chapters specify correct behavior. This one sets forth the punishments for disobedience. Chapters 18-19 already discussed most of the subjects dealt with in this chapter.

"The difference between the laws in this chapter and previous ones lies in their form. Those in chs. 18-19 are apodictic in form; that is, they forbid or command certain types of behavior but they rarely indicate what the consequences of disregarding these rules would be. In contrast, the laws in this chapter are casuistic; that is, they state what must be done should one of the apodictic rules be broken. They set out what will befall a law-breaker in such a case. In this way they supplement and reinforce what is found in earlier chapters." [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 277.]

"Although the content of Leviticus 18, 20 is virtually identical, it is possible to make a distinction between the intended audiences of the chapters. Whereas Leviticus 18 addresses the would-be offender of a God-given decree, Leviticus 20 addresses the Israelite community, which was responsible for seeing that violations of Law receive their just reward." [Note: Rooker, p. 265.]

"This selection of laws consists of fourteen (7x2) laws, concluded by an extended appeal for holiness on the part of the nation when they take possession of the land of Canaan (Leviticus 20:22-26). After the conclusion, one of the laws, the prohibition of mediums and spiritists (Leviticus 20:6), is restated (Leviticus 20:27)." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 353.]

Verses 9-21

Cursing parents was also punishable by stoning.

Stoning ". . . was the usual punishment appointed in the law for cases in which death was inflicted . . ." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:426.]

Several sexual sins described here drew this penalty. The law banned the marital unions alluded to in Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 20:17; Leviticus 20:21. Consequently these verses may be referring to common law marriages in which people lived together as husband and wife without a wedding ceremony. [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 280.] Burning the criminals (Leviticus 20:14) took place after their execution to heighten the general perception of the wickedness of their sin (cf. Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 21:9; Joshua 7:15; Joshua 7:25). It also symbolically cleansed the camp of defilement by removing their remains. [Note: Ross, p. 386.]

God would judge these sexual sins, not by withholding children from the guilty parties, but by regarding the children born of such unions as illegitimate. Such children would not benefit their families, which was a great calamity in Israel’s world (cf. 1 Chronicles 3:17-18; Jeremiah 22:30; Jeremiah 36:30). [Note: See ibid., p. 377; Hartley, pp. 328-29.]

"Whereas in certain respects OT penal law was much more lenient than that of neighboring contemporary cultures, it was more strict with regard to offenses against religion and family life." [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 179. This author wrote a helpful excursus on "Principles of Punishment in the Pentateuch," pp. 281-86.]

Verses 22-27

This chapter, as chapter 18, concludes with an exhortation and warnings to obey God’s ordinances. In view of Israel’s unique vocation in the world, the nation was to live differently from other peoples. The Israelites would possess the Promised Land to the extent that they maintained their holiness.

No matter how lightly the Israelites may have regarded the type of conduct reflected in this chapter, in God’s sight it constituted serious sin and deserved the severest punishment.

"This theme runs through chs. 11-20: the elect people of God must visibly embody the character of God. In their choice of food, in sickness and in health, in their family life, in their honest and upright dealing, and in their love of neighbor, they show the world what God is like." [Note: Ibid., pp. 342-43.]

"God’s people must avoid the world’s false religious systems and immoral practices and follow after the LORD’s holy plan." [Note: Ross, p. 378.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Leviticus 20". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/leviticus-20.html. 2012.
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