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Punishment for Unholiness
“Keeping Holy the Holy Congregation by Cutting off Irreparable Transgression.”—Lange
1And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 2Again, 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. 3And 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. 4And if the people of the land do any ways hide1 their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not: 5then 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. 6And 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,2 and will cut him off from among his people. 7Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the Lord your God.3 8And ye shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am the Lord which sanctify you.
10And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that commiteth adultery with his neighbor’s wife,6 the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. 11And 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 blood5 shall be upon them. 12And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have wrought confusion; their blood5 shall be upon them. 13If 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. 14And 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. 15And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast. 16And 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 blood5 shall be upon them. 17And 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; Hebrews 7:0 shall bear his iniquity. 18And if a man shall lie with a woman having her sickness, and shall uncover her nakedness; he hath discovered [uncovered8] her fountain, and she hath uncovered the fountain of her blood: and both of them shall be cut off from among their people. 19And 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. 20And 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. 21And 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.
22Ye 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. 23And ye shall not walk in the manners [statutes9] of the nation,10 which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them. 24But 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. 25Ye 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 [omit living11] thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. 26And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine. 27A 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.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
Leviticus 20:4. On the daghesh in הַעְלֵּם and יַעְלִּימוּ, see Text. Note10 on Leviticus 4:13.
Leviticus 20:6. בַּנֶּפֶשׁ. Four MSS. and Onk. read בְּאִישׁ which De Rossi prefers on account of the following אֹתּוֹ. For the last, however, the Sam. reads אתה.
Leviticus 20:7. The Sam., 4 MSS. and LXX. read: for I, the Lord your God, am holy.
Leviticus 20:9. כִּי = for is omitted in two MSS., the LXX. and Vulg.
Leviticus 20:9; Leviticus 20:11-12; Leviticus 20:16. On the plural form for blood, comp. Genesis 4:10; Exodus 22:1.
Leviticus 20:10. Three of Kennicott’s MSS. omit the first clause of this verse. Rosenmüller considers that the repetition involves a distinction for the sake of emphasis, making רֵעַ in the second clause=relation, so that there is a prohibition, first of adultery in general, then specifically, of adultery with the wife of a relative. For this sense of the word he refers to Deuteronomy 13:7 : 2 Samuel 13:3. S. Augustine (Qu. 73 in Hept.) takes the same view.
Leviticus 20:17. The LXX., Syr. and Vulg. have the plural.
Leviticus 20:18. The same word should receive the same translation in both clauses.
Leviticus 20:23. Statutes. See Text Note2 on Leviticus 18:3.
Leviticus 20:23. The Sam. reads הגוים and so one MS. followed by all the ancient versions, as seems to be required by the following they committed. If is not unlikely that ם may have dropped out of the text.
Leviticus 20:25. There is nothing to express the word living in the Heb., and it is better omitted, as the reference is wholly to the dead bodies of these animals.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
The whole of Lange’s Commentary on this chapter is here given.
“Our section forms a completion of the prohibitions which have preceded in Leviticus 18:0, while it still further joins the punishment of death to several of the very sins there mentioned. Yet this is certainly no mere appendix, but proceeds from an entirely new point of view. There the fundamental idea was: the sexual relations, particularly, the theocratic seed, must be kept holy; here the fundamental idea is: the holy land must be kept holy, it must not be outraged or stirred up to reaction and revolt through an abomination which might determine it to spue out the Israelites also (as a person spues out something nauseous from his mouth), Leviticus 20:22.Leviticus 18:28; Leviticus 18:28 had already expressed this thought, but from the point of view that the land would be thereby desecrated. It is also here clearly brought out that the land would be taken away from the Canaanites on account of their constant abominations, and given to the people of Israel; but that the like punishment should befall them also, if they did not keep the land clean by executing the penalty of death upon the offenders. In the conception of the sickened land and the revolted nature lies evidently the idea of the people consumed by unnatural sins.” [A simpler view of the relation of this to chs. 18 and 19 is given by Clark: “The crimes which are condemned in those chapters on purely spiritual ground, the absolute prohibition of Jehovah, have here special punishments allotted to them as offences against the well being of the nation.” In Leviticus 19:0 there is no mention at all of punishment except in the single case of the betrothed slave (Leviticus 20:20-22); in Leviticus 18:0 there is no specific punishment attached to each offence, but only the general statement (Lev 20:28–30) of the penalty to fall upon the trangressor of any of the statutes and upon the land as a whole. For the purpose of civil government, therefore, the present chapter is a necessary supplement.—F. G.]
“Already (schon früher) has the decree of the death-penalty been brought forward for sins that were committed, בְּיָר רָמָה (Numbers 15:30). By this we can only understand stubborn or arrogant sins; therefore not every conscious sin, as opposed to the unconscious, but every sin which was maintained in opposition to the theocratic jurisdiction. Single sins might always prove to be such; but the abominations here mentioned were, for the most part, deadly sins, those most befitting the Cherem, as blaspheming the name of Jehovah, Leviticus 24:11, and desecrating the Sabbath, Numbers 15:32.
“But also we have here different grades of punishment with the different grades of offence. The first class of sins is devilish, Leviticus 20:1-7; the second class brutal, even beastly, Leviticus 20:10-16; the third, of the carnal nature, unruly, Leviticus 20:17-21.
“1. The sacrifice to Molech. It is to be understood that the stranger was included with the Israelite under this prohibition; for if, in general, no sacrifice to false gods were allowed in the land, so certainly not the sacrifice to Molech. The Jew, however, would become more wicked by such an offering than a heathen. It is also here plain that what is spoken of is the giving up of children to death.” [The expressions used here, Leviticus 20:2-4, are an abbreviated form of that in Leviticus 18:21. It may be doubted whether they refer to children at all, or if so, to putting them to death. See Textual Note and Comm. on Leviticus 18:21.—F. G.]
“In regard to this, it sounds like a charge to execute immediate judgment on the spot: the people of the land shall stone him with stones, properly, bury him under thrown stones.” [Doubtless in a primitive state of society all punishment was somewhat summary, and this particular punishment is often provided for in the law, Leviticus 20:27; Leviticus 24:14; Numbers 15:35-36; Deuteronomy 13:10; Deuteronomy 17:5; Deuteronomy 21:21; Deuteronomy 22:21; Deuteronomy 22:24, etc. But, nevertheless, it was only to be administered on sufficient evidence, and with due forms of law, Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15, etc.—F. G.]—“In this case the avenging is God’s personal affair: Jehovah sets His face against him to consume him out of Jehovah’s people; for his sin is a three-fold one: he has given his seed to Molech, and therein has judged himself; he has defiled the sanctuary of Jehovah, that is, the land hallowed by His sanctuary; and he has profaned Jehovah’s holy name, and desecrated the religion of His name. And even if the people should let him go unpunished in the last case, Jehovah Himself will pursue him and even his race with His judgment, until He has exterminated all who are associated in his guilt. So strongly rules the absolute Personality against all behaviour that opposed personality. The judgment is in this case as immanent in the guilty as a consuming fire. One might also suppose that “the face of Jehovah,” in a constructio prægnans, here signified the Angel of His presence, and thus expressed the thought that the spirit of the revealed religion would exterminate the abominations mentioned together with their authors. There were two grades, however, in complicity in this guilt: in the first grade, it is an apostasy to these men (as e.g. in the case of heathen wives); in the second grade, through this to Molech. Leviticus 20:5.”—[It is noticeable that while the prohibition of the sin in Leviticus 20:1-5 extends to the stranger on the ground that such abomination was not to be tolerated at all in the consecrated land; yet the extension of the penalty to complicity in the sin by concealment is applied only to the people of the land (Leviticus 20:4)—that is, to native Hebrews (comp. Leviticus 4:27), and also to them alone (Leviticus 20:2) is committed the execution of the penalty.—F. G.]
“2. Also the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits (necromancers) and after wizards (LXX. ἐγγαστριμυθοί = ventriloquists, ἐπαοιδοί = singing magic charms, both not exegetically exhaustive) to go a whoring after them—i.e., to engage in apostasy from Jehovah to dark forms of superstition,—therefore against these also Jehovah will set His face. It helps them nothing if they remain unpunished of men; they fall before the more searching sentence upon presumptuous wickedness. Jehovah pursues them even to their extermination, for they are not to corrupt His people for Him.
“In regard to these sins it is said, on the other hand: Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: raise yourselves to the dignity of theocratic personalities, for your God is in Jehovah, the absolute, pure Personality. While they observe the ordinances of this Holy Being, they must understand that it is He who is training them to be a holy people.
“First Case.—Next the text speaks of the unnatural and profligate child that curseth his father or his mother. He shall be surely put to death. And herewith commences the new class. But since the expression begins with for (כִּי), it gives to the clause at the same time a symbolic character in reference to the former class: profaning the name of Jehovah is like this sin of cursing father or mother, since He, as the Holy One, creates for Himself His holy people. But for the second class the expression is characteristic, his blood shall be upon him, or upon them, Leviticus 20:9; Leviticus 20:11-13; Leviticus 20:16. It is to be observed that Leviticus 20:14 brings out an increase in regard to this form of punishment; but Leviticus 20:15 certainly falls under one category with Leviticus 20:16. The ordinance of punishment, equalizing the guilt of the unnatural curser with that of the shedding of blood, brings upon him the penal retribution of the latter. Leviticus 20:9.
“Second and Third Cases.—The crime of adultery with a neighbor’s wife, and the crime of incest with a father’s wife (a step-mother) are equalized under the sentence of blood-guiltiness which incurred death, and this for both man and woman alike. Leviticus 20:10-11.
“Fourth Case.—The same applies to incest with a daughter-in-law, תֶּבֶל (mixing, confusion, defilement). [Leviticus 20:12.]
“Fifth Case.—Pæderasty, moreover, is designated as an abomination, as contrary to nature, a revolting crime; and the punishment of death is here expressly made prominent. This sin is called תּוֹעֵבָה (abomination, horror). [Leviticus 20:13.]
“Sixth Case.—The double incest is made most particularly prominent when a man lies both with a mother and her daughter. They were to be burnt with each other (without doubt, their bodies after they had been stoned). This sin is called זִמָּה (a refined or unheard of deed of shame. The law brings out prominently that such moral enormities should not exist in Israel). The same penalty was, moreover, imposed upon the daughter of a priest who became a whore, because she had put her father to shame, Leviticus 21:9. So Achan was first stoned in the valley of Achor, then burned, since he had brought a curse, a corrupting complicity in guilt upon Israel, Joshua 7:0. But Josiah set burning against burning, the theocratic burning against the burning to Molech, when he burned the bones of the priests upon their altars, and thereby purified Judah and Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 34:5; comp. 2 Kings 23:10). With this appears the embryo of the Gehenna, as it comes out in symbolic form in the Old Testament, Isaiah 66:24. The Gehenna is thus a representation of the fire of Molech, and over it also the fire of judgment has at last come. Leviticus 20:14. The Old Testament fire penalty was only symbolical, and involved no unnatural torture, like the mediæval mimicry of the flames of hell. In this case, the offender was first put to death; and the same is true of the Old Testament hanging.
“Seventh and Eighth Cases.—Copulation with a beast, either by a man or a woman. With the beastly human being, the beast itself was also to be destroyed. For examples, see Knobel, p. 507. [Leviticus 20:15-16.]
“First Case.—Copulation with a half-sister.” [This also, as in Leviticus 18:9, necessarily covers the case of a full sister, for she was both the daughter of the father and the daughter of the mother.—F. G.] “They shall be cut off in the sight of their people.—Thus they should form a warning spectacle.” Here the crime is described as חֶסֶד and עֲוֹן disgrace and misdeed, [Leviticus 20:17.]
“Second Case.—He that lay with a menstruous woman, who in such wise uncovered the fountain of her blood—so to speak—exposed her life-spring. The penalty of death is for both. The sentence sounds with a more gentle expression: destruction out of the midst of the people.” [Leviticus 20:18. The punishment here refers to the act knowingly committed; in Leviticus 15:24 the light penalty is given for the same act unintentionally committed.—F. G.]
“Third Case.—Intercourse with an aunt on either the father’s or the mother’s side. They shall bear their iniquity.—Thus sounds the sentence indefinitely, in transition to the following. [Leviticus 20:19.]
“Fourth Case.—If one takes the wife of his brother, it is נִדָּה (it induces the curse of the first degree); The penalty is childlessness, and is thus entirely a divine dispensation (Leviticus 20:21). Here, as has been said, the prohibition can, in the case of the Levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), become a command—an evidence of the nicety of the law.” [On the meaning of the penalty of childlessness see the preliminary note to Leviticus 18:0. It would be entirely out of analogy with the Divine dealings with man to suppose a perpetual special interposition through all the ages of Israel’s history in every case of violation of this law, and there is nothing in the character of the forbidden relation to induce childlessness under those ordinary Divine appointments which we call natural laws. It is also much more in accordance with the general character of this chapter that the penalty should be understood of something inflicted by statute law,—the reckoning of the issue of such marriages to another than the actual father. So rightly S. Augustin, Qu. 76 in Hept. It is a striking fact that this penalty was still carried out in the one case of the prohibited degrees, when the prohibition was changed to a command. In the Levirate marriage no heirs were begotten to the actual father, but they were reckoned to the deceased brother.—F. G.]
“In conclusion, another exhortation follows which, in the first place, marks out the ordinances as judgments (ideas); secondly, expresses the incongruity between the unnatural behaviour and the nature of the land of God, for which even Israel could be spued out from it; and this brings out, in the third place, that for such very things the heathen were thrust out of the land. To this threat a promise is appended in conclusion. [Leviticus 20:24.] And with this is connected a noble idea: in the separation of clean beasts from the unclean, the separation of Israel from the heathen is to be symbolically mirrored forth. The closing sentence [Leviticus 20:27] would be unintelligible as a repetition (from Leviticus 19:31); evidently it is the germ of the prohibition of false enthusiasm and prophecy in Israel itself (see Deuteronomy 19:11 sqq.).” [In Leviticus 19:31, in accordance with the general character of chaps. 18 and 19, we have simply the prohibition on the spiritual ground of the opposition to God’s will, without mention of specific punishments; here we have throughout civil penalties attached to the various offences as against the theocratic state. Accordingly those that have familiar spirits or are wizards require to be mentioned again in order that the death penalty may be denounced against them.—F. G.]
“Leviticus 20:25 is particularly important, since it contains the key to the understanding of the Levitical distinction between clean and unclean animals. Men have sought for physiological reasons for this distinction, and quite lately an Israelitish author has referred to the discovery of the Trichina as the foundation of the prohibition of swine’s flesh. In regard to many of the unclean animals, there is indeed the reason of the physiological unhealthiness of the flesh, or of the physical aversion to their hateful appearance; to which may be added, as connected, something of the physical effect of the blood of wild beasts. Also the limitation of Israel to the use and sacrifice of domestic animals must have an economic significance, and be, so to speak, for the benefit of the State, since it worked against the dissipations of the ancient hunting and the luxury of the heathen, and with the cultivation of the land, furthered at the same time domestic simplicity and contentment.” [This must be understood to apply only in a limited degree to the Israelites; for they were allowed freely to hunt and eat all clean wild animals, as the “roebuck and the hart” (Deuteronomy 12:15, etc.). In regard to all physiological and other reasons, it is always to be remembered that no animals are intrinsically unclean; none were excepted from the grant to Noah, and none from the Christian abrogation of the distinction. The law was wholly temporary, added “because of transgressions,” to constitute Israel a peculiar people.—F. G.] “But the symbolic meaning of the animal world, as a representation of Israel among the Gentiles, is here expressly brought out as the religious main reason. Israel was to have a constant representation of its separation from the heathen world in the separation of the clean animals, and thus also the heathen world, by which it was surrounded, and from which it was to understand that it differed in religion and in morals, was to be represented in the sphere of the unclean animals. The sacred observance of the laws of food was thus a constant reminder for Israel of its theocratic sanctity and dignity. Thus it is plain that the old distinction between clean and unclean animals must fall away after the boundary between Israel and the heathen has fallen. But it is also to be recollected that Judaism clung very strongly to the old distinction, as it did no less to the prohibition of the use of blood; and the Apostolic ordinance in regard to the last particular and cognate subjects is explained to mean that these laws, which had been ended as religious dogmas, must yet continue for a time as Christian customs for the sake of a united Christian fellowship. The shadowing forth of the heathen world in the world of unclean beasts, which is here expressly brought out, is denied by Keil, in opposition to Kurtz, without reason (p. 95).” [Much as we may admire the beauty and force of the symbolism here presented by Lange, it is difficult to see how it “is here expressly brought out,” or even in any way alluded to in the text. Certainly the observance of the distinction among animals is placed upon a religious ground, and this observance would contribute to make of Israel that separate people which God had called them to be. Naturally then might the Israelites themselves have compared the heathen to unclean animals; but, so far is such an idea from finding countenance in the word of God that it is only recognised to be removed, and the heathen are first represented as unclean animals in the vision of St. Peter (Acts 10:10-16) at the moment when such distinctions were forever to be done away. The object of the law was to make the distinction of animals fixed and unalterable; but in regard to the heathen, to encourage them to offer sacrifices and partake in the worship of God, and thus to be drawn into ever increasing nearness of relation to Him.—F. G.]
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
I. In chap. 18 the law is given simply as the will of God. Here punishments are attached to disobedience as to civil offences against the theocratic state. There seems no reason why these two chapters should have been separated except to mark this distinction emphatically. Obedience to God’s law is required simply because it is His will, and this is set forth by itself; afterwards and separately, punishments are provided for these among His people who refuse to be guided by Him.
II. In the frequent expression his or their blood shall be upon him or them is a plain intimation that the offender alone is responsible for the evil that comes upon him. The divine law, whether natural or revealed, is inexorable, and he who thrusts himself across its path necessarily incurs its penalties. There is no occasion for a Divine interposition to punish, and there is no room for the charge of severity; the offender braves an irresistible will, and in doing this must himself alone be held responsible for the result.
III. The beast involved in the guilt of man or woman must be put to death with them. There could be no moral guilt on the part of the beast, because there was no moral responsibility; but yet he must perish because he had been associated in human sin. Whether this was in order to remove the tool of sin from sight simply, or whether it was because of the association of human sin with the beast; in either case it is plain that it was commanded not for the sake of the beast, but of man. Here we have one of the many instances in the law in which human associations and feelings are cared for and protected, and used also as means for the advancement of holiness.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Lange: “The chapter of the great theocratic rigor (Leviticus 20:0) forms a contrast to the chapter of the great theocratic mildness and purity of life. Here the various measures of punishment come into consideration. Burning with fire, as a symbolical addition to the punishment of death, is only connected with the dead body which has been put to death by stoning. Then follows the particular capital punishment; and next to this indefinite forms of punishment, he shall bear his iniquity; and finally the punishment of childlessness, in which also we are certainly to suppose a physical basis. The conception of the abominations is the conception of that which is against nature (Romans 1:0), of that which, even according to natural instinct, is perverse, horrible, and a revolt against the moral law in man’s nature; but in regard to this, indeed, nature itself comes to the judgment like a spirit of retribution.”
The law of this, as of many other chapters, is enforced on the ground that the Israelites were called to be a holy people. With how great additional force must this apply to Christians. Not only the Israelite, but the stranger also, defiled God’s sanctuary and profaned His holy name by sin. The same thing must be true always; there is no escape from responsibility because one chooses not to acknowledge allegiance to God. The Divine commands still rest upon him. Only he has less help and support in keeping them while he remains aloof from the commonwealth of Israel.
Leviticus 20:4; Leviticus 20:4. On the daghesh in הַעְלֵּם and יַעְלִּימוּ, see Text. Note10 on Leviticus 4:13.
Leviticus 20:6; Leviticus 20:6. בַּנֶּפֶשׁ. Four MSS. and Onk. read בְּאִישׁ which De Rossi prefers on account of the following אֹתּוֹ. For the last, however, the Sam. reads אתה.
Leviticus 20:7; Leviticus 20:7. The Sam., 4 MSS. and LXX. read: for I, the Lord your God, am holy.
Leviticus 20:9; Leviticus 20:9. כִּי = for is omitted in two MSS., the LXX. and Vulg.
Leviticus 20:9; Leviticus 20:9; Leviticus 20:11-12; Leviticus 20:16. On the plural form for blood, comp. Genesis 4:10; Exodus 22:1.
Leviticus 20:10; Leviticus 20:10. Three of Kennicott’s MSS. omit the first clause of this verse. Rosenmüller considers that the repetition involves a distinction for the sake of emphasis, making רֵעַ in the second clause=relation, so that there is a prohibition, first of adultery in general, then specifically, of adultery with the wife of a relative. For this sense of the word he refers to Deuteronomy 13:7 : 2 Samuel 13:3. S. Augustine (Qu. 73 in Hept.) takes the same view.
Leviticus 20:17; Leviticus 20:17. The LXX., Syr. and Vulg. have the plural.
Leviticus 20:18; Leviticus 20:18. The same word should receive the same translation in both clauses.
Leviticus 20:23; Leviticus 20:23. Statutes. See Text Note2 on Leviticus 18:3.
Leviticus 20:23; Leviticus 20:23. The Sam. reads הגוים and so one MS. followed by all the ancient versions, as seems to be required by the following they committed. If is not unlikely that ם may have dropped out of the text.
Leviticus 20:25; Leviticus 20:25. There is nothing to express the word living in the Heb., and it is better omitted, as the reference is wholly to the dead bodies of these animals.
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 20". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30