Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 21

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-24


The twentieth chapter is of deep interest as showing what infinite wisdom and love has considered a just punishment for certain crimes. These crimes are still committed in civilized communities but a different view of their treatment seems to exist. Are human governments in modern times wiser and better than this theocracy where Jehovah ruled?

Why does not this code obtain in Christian nations, since God has revealed it and such nations are supposed to serve God?

The answer is, that no nation on earth is a God-governed nation, as Israel was, and shall again be in the millennial age. The laws of so-called Christian nations are man-made, not God-made. They may bear a likeness or relationship to these laws of God, but only as they grow out of a necessity of human experience. No nation has ever set itself the task of finding out God’s mind with reference to this or that penalty, and squaring its legislation accordingly. Hence the lawlessness we see on every hand, and the injustice; hence the teaching of the prophets that the present order of things shall end in a grand catastrophe, and God shall set up His own kingdom on the earth over which His Son shall reign.


The first section (Leviticus 20:1-6 ) relates to the giving of seed to Molech, and consulting with familiar spirits (what we call Spiritualism). With Spiritualism might be included other occultisms, such as fortunetelling, clairvoyance, palmistry and the like.

A second section (Leviticus 20:7-8 ) consists of a command to sanctification of life and obedience to God.

A third (Leviticus 20:9-16 ) enumerates other cases for which death was ordered, some of them very unnatural crimes.

A fourth (Leviticus 20:17-21 ) names offenses for which a lesser penalty is prescribed. A fifth (v. 22-26) consists of a concluding exhortation against disobedience enforced by the impending punishment of the Canaanites, and the goodness of God to them (Israel).

For what crimes is death ordained as a penalty (Leviticus 20:2-5 ; Leviticus 20:10 ; Leviticus 20:12-16 ; Leviticus 20:27 )? What manner of death is ordained (Leviticus 20:2 )? In the case of certain crimes is any difference made between the sexes (Leviticus 20:10-12 ; Leviticus 20:14-16 )? In what instance were the bodies of the criminals to be burnt after death (Leviticus 20:14 )?

In the case of the lesser penalties, which offense demanded the most public excommunication (Leviticus 20:17 )?

The Principles Involved

Certain “reformers” claim that the primary, if not the sole, object of the punishment of crime is the reformation of the individual. How does such a theory square with this divine precedent? Had reformation been the chief thought in God’s mind, would He have ordained the death penalty with such unqualified severity?

How does Leviticus 20:3 show that the intention of the punishment is to satisfy the outraged holiness of God? How does Leviticus 20:12 show that it is to preserve the natural order of the human family? How does Leviticus 20:14 show that it is for the moral benefit of the race?

The multiplication of murders and crimes against the family in these days may be explained by the laxity of the laws, or the indisposition of the people to enforce them. Where God pronounces the death penalty, man apologizes for the crime, then lightens the penalty, then abolishes it, and at last legalizes the offense. This modern drift bodes no good, and in the end can only bring disaster to the family and the state.


We pass over chapters 21 and 22 with a remark or two, as they treat the same subject as the preceding chapter except as it applies to the priests. While all Israel was called to be a priestly nation, holy to Jehovah in life and service, this sanctity was represented in degrees successively higher in each of its three divisions, the people, the priest, and the high priests, like the threefold division of the tabernacle, the outer court, the holy place, and the Holy of Holies.

The principle still holds good in that special privileges place him who enjoys them under special obligations to holiness of life. Christians, in other words, should not merely be equally correct in life with the best men of the world, but more they should be holy. And within the Church, those who occupy official positions or who are otherwise elevated above their fellows, are under the more stringent obligations of life and work.


1. What kind of government did Israel have?

2. How would you account for much of the disorder and lawlessness in so-called Christian nations?

3. What will bring this to an end?

4. Have you tried to answer the questions asked under “Principles Involved”?

5. What peculiar obligation of conduct lies upon Christians, and why?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Leviticus 21". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/leviticus-21.html. 1897-1910.
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