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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 20

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-27

Social and Moral Crimes


Leviticus 20:2.—Again thou shalt say to the children of Israel. These denunclations of sin (already denounced in ch. 18.) are to be repeated in the hearing of the nation. The holy God would have these social and moral commands reiterated that they may be emphasised upon the people’s attention. When sins are pleasant to us, when inclination leads us towards them, it is scarcely in human nature to halt at the first command to desist. Evil indulgence deadens sensibility to God’s voice. Although the law of heaven denounces iniquities, yet when the sins are cherished, we are very slow to “turn at God’s reproof.” Therefore, God speaks once more, “Again thou shalt say.” “For God speaketh once, yea, twice, yet man perceiveth it not” (Job 33:14). He knows our disposition to lurk in the enjoyment of our sins, therefore pursues us with His voice, reiterating the warning words.

Leviticus 20:3; Leviticus 20:5.—I will set My face against that man. Penalty is now attached to prohibition. God emphasises His denunciations by affixing terrible punishments to corrupt deeds. For a sinner will find he has to do with something more than divine expostulations and commands; “God is angry with the wicked,” and to crimes against righteousness He has attached doom. They who will not pause at persuasions will be overtaken with punishments.

Leviticus 20:4.—If the people hide their eyes. Connivance at wrong entails joint-guiltiness in the deed, and joint-penalty. Affection and friendship often lead us to wink at errors and misdemeanours in those we love, but we thereby become “partakers of their sins” (Revelation 18:4), and shall “receive of their plagues.”

Compare foregoing chapters for suggestive readings on the verses following.
It is specially noticeable that the penalty rather than the sin of all misdemeanour is distinctive of this chapter. If men are not restrained from evil practices which the law has denounced as sin, it may be they will shun them when the law annexes to them death! How gracious is this act of God: making it so clear to us that transgression of the law is not only repulsive to Him—as being sin, but also destructive to us—as entailing death. There are minds less startled by the heinousness of wrong as God sees it than with the disastrous consequences which wrong brings on themselves. Yet God appeals even to the selfishness of sinners as a motive to shun sin.

Leviticus 20:22-27.—A separated and sanctified people. God had separated Israel from all the nations of the earth, to exhibit His holy character in their purity and to illustrate the reward of holiness by possessing “the land flowing with milk and honey”; thus connecting purity with privilege, as cause and consequence. Being thus “separated” by God (Leviticus 20:24), they were to separate themselves by distinctive conduct (Leviticus 20:25), and show themselves before the less favoured nations as “holy unto the Lord” (Leviticus 20:26).

If thus it behoved the Jewish people to maintain sanctity, surely we, who are chosen in Christ Jesus and called to be saints, should show forth the virtues of the Lord, and thus connect holiness of life with our enjoyment of the inheritance which is made ours by grace.



Here, commandments already given are repeated and enforced with renewed authority and power. Repetition essential to inculcation of knowledge, and fixing indelibly the truths taught. The vices into which Israel was liable to fall are odiously repulsive to the virtuous human mind; how inexpressibly abominable they must have been to the nature of the immaculately holy God! Inward as well as ceremonial purity demanded of the Hebrews, hence the constant call to circumspection and consecration. One great purpose running through the whole economy—the recovery of man from the practice, guilt, and penalty of sin. Looking at this chapter in the light of the circumstances under which it was given we learn—

I. CONSTANT VIGILANCE ENJOINED AGAINST ENSNARING SIN. The people of Israel were not elected to divine advantages unconditionally, exempted from responsibility for the use they made of their privileges. The elaborate and searching character of the laws by which they were governed denoted (a) that the people were very depraved by nature, and ever prone to sin; (b) that they were liable to yield to temptations arising from remembrances of the sinful habits of the Eyptians; (c) that they would be ever coming in contact with seductions to wrong-doing (Leviticus 20:22). Every vice—condemned in this chapter—is an outrage upon decency and the moral sense. Nature sets her face against all such iniquity, sets her burning stigma upon immorality. Filthy practices entail retributive consequences. As a great family of which Jehovah was the head, Israel was to guard against everything indecent and indelicate. Nothing could destroy them but inward corruption, every weapon formed against them would be futile if they kept pure in character, faithful in allegiance to the Lord. Abandonment to the abominations of the heathen would bring down the indignation of heaven, and the land whither they were going would cast them out as apostates and reprobates.

II. TREMENDOUS RETRIBUTIONS ATTACHED TO WRONG-DOING. Expressions of divine displeasure against sin (in this chapter) are very strong, punishments threatened very awful. It mattered not who the person might be upon whom the guilt of idolatry and licentiousness might be brought, the sentence was to be executed. The penalties seemed severe, but they showed (i.) the holiness of the divine law; (ii.) the detestable nature of sin; (iii.) the retributive character of guilt. The fate of sinful nations was to be a warning to the Hebrews. The revealed indignation of Jehovah against every kind of moral evil, was to lead the people to avoid the approach and appearance of evil. These righteous statutes calculated to awaken devout reflection, rigid self-examination.

Under grace in Jesus Christ we are elected to privileges, predestinated to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. The world is to see the purity of the divine nature reflected in the light of our Christly lives. We are expected, by Him who has called us out of nature’s darkness, to represent and thus recommend the religion which, like its Author, is pure and undefiled. Unfaithfulness to our sacred trust, unholiness in our lives, will forfeit the favour of our Master, destroy peace, produce spiritual ruin. The grand object of redemption is not mere salvation from sin’s consequences, but its complete removal from the human soul and the universe of God. Nowhere as in the gospel of Christ does the tire of indignation burn so fiercely against unrighteousness and impurity, its intensest heat is centred in the mysteries and sufferings of the cross.—F. W. B.


And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people.” (Leviticus 20:3).

How frequently we read in this chapter of excommunication and death. The words “he shall surely be put to death “occur again and again; flash after flash of the lightning of divine wrath, peal after peal of the thunder of divine condemnation startle us, as the various crimes are indicated towards which such judgments are directed. As we reverently gaze and listen, we learn—

I. TO WHAT DIABOLICAL DEPTHS HUMAN DEPRAVITY CAN SINK. Those who indulged in Molech worship, committed murder of the most horrible kind, and in the heathen temples immoralities of the most degrading and disgusting character were practised. Vice was not confined to public places, but its pollutions cursed the most sacred and delicate relationships in life. Human nature can sink into a condition of degradation, compared with which the natural habits of the brute creation are pure and noble.

II. TO WHAT A FEARFUL EXTENT THE DIVINE ANGER CAN TURN. “God is Love,” and it is equally clear from nature and revelation He is also holy, just, and true. He is angry with sin, and with the sinner while He loves and indulges in sin, and such announcements of anger against the guilty as this chapter contains, show God is a consuming fire against evil; He sets His face against it, visits its perpetrators with death. Only by infliction of death upon the sinner’s Substitute, can the claims of divine justice be met, the divine anger against sin be averted.

III. TO WHAT FATAL ISSUES TRANSGRESSION OF THE DIVINE LAWS CONDUCTS. (a) The loss of divine favour. “I will set my face against that man.” Nothing can be more awful than to incur the antagonism of the Almighty, (b) The loss o congenial society. “And will cut him off from among his people.” He shall be excommunicated, an exile and outcast for ever. The loss of the favour of God, banishment from the society of the blessed, will constitute the punishment of the finally impenitent.

IV. TO WHAT SOLEMN FACTS THESE DIVINE DEOLARATIONS POINT. Unquestionably: (a) To the heinousness of sin. That it required atonement, to be forgiven; that unforgiven it entailed death. (b) To the righteousness of God’s law. That it denounced every kind of iniquity, could not be broken in the smallest point with impunity. (c) To the holiness of God’s name. Jehovah’s nature arrayed against even secret sins; where He dwelt, where His name is recorded, nothing impure must be allowed.

CONCLUSION. Human nature is still the same, prone to depart from the living God, liable to sink to the lowest depths of sensuality and guilt. The anger of God still burns against evil, His face set against evil-doers. Sin, if unrepented unremoved, brings death, destruction from the presence of the Lord. As of old, so now, but with greater freeness and fulness, a way is open for pardon, purity, peace. In the Christian Church, proclaimed in the glad tidings of the gospel, we have—

1. Higher examples of holiness. Especially in our Exemplar, Christ Jesus.

2. Loftier precepts to guide us. Ethics of the gospel transcend those of the law.

3. Stronger inducements to urge us. Not fear but love, the gospel motive.

4. Superior prospects to cheer us. Life and immortality have been brought to light by the gospel; we may look forward to an eternity of rest in the Canaan above.—F. W. B.


If the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man when he giveth his seed to Molech,etc (Leviticus 20:4).

(a) Evils are allowed to pass unrebuked. From indifference: a total unconcern about either right or wrong, piety or sin. Or from indolence: habitual inertia, unwillingness to take any trouble to set wrong-doers right, or rescue the debased from their degradations.

(b) Errors are permitted to flourish unmolested. From contempt of truth: caring nothing for sacred knowledge, content to let others dwell and to dwell themselves in ignorance or delusion, serving Molech or any other fallacy, as they may prefer. Or from false charitableness: pleading that if men but be loyal to the light they had, or faithful to convictions they cherish, as their standard of duty and code of religion, it matters little what errors thrive. But consider—


“Giveth his seed unto Molech.” Tender infants offered up to devouring fires. Heathenism has its frightful records: the car of Juggernauth; the funereal fires for widows: the abandonment of aged parents; children cast into the Ganges; etc

Romanism has its catalogue of enormities; prison tortures; inquisitorial horrors, faggot fires of martyrdom, etc


Superstition is but one of the many foul products of sin; and the barbarities wrought through superstition are but a fraction of the cruelties developed by sin.

1. There is a common callousness respecting the miseries rampant. The victims of sin are everywhere—in debased homes, in asylums, in prisons: poverty, brutality, villainy: yet society connives at it all, and avowed Christians lift not the burdens with one of their fingers.

2. A willing ignorance of existing woes prevails. The people of the land hide their eyes. How different this from—

The keen spirit,

which Seizes the prompt occasion, makes the thought
Start into instant action, and at once
Plans and performs, resolves and executes!

A true grief for sin, and pity for the sinner, and hatred of what degrades the soul of man and dishonours God, would stir us to generous activity.


It is not enough that we “hide our eyes.” When men err and sin around us—

1. Not to know may be criminal ignorance. Each man is set in charge with the other; and we owe it to him that we inform ourselves of his condition and conduct. To pass by on the other side “is no excuse for letting the sufferer die.”

2. Not to share in his deed does not exonerate us from his sins. If we connive at his deed we to a degree both sanction and encourage it. We ought to “rebuke the unfruitful works of darkness.” But instead of that we give consent by our silence, by our ignoring them.

3. Not to stay the inhumanities which are being inflicted renders us chargeable with complicity. What brutality to stand inactive while children were being sacrificed to Molech! What cruelty to let the helpless suffer, the deceived perish, the sinner be lost!


“Then I will set my face against that man” (Leviticus 20:8)

1. The watchman’s duty is to raise the sound of warning. [Comp. Ezekiel 33:0.]

2. Yet every man who will keep his eyes open sees the occasion and necessity for this ministry of protest, and warning, and rescue. He who sees not is guilty of “hiding his eyes from the man.” Sinners are everywhere; sufferers are everywhere.

3. Judgment will be based on our actions to others. “Inasmuch as ye did it unto me”; or, “inasmuch as ye did it not” (Matthew 25:41; Matthew 25:45).

Note: Our urgent duty in the world is to—

(a) Rebuke sin and wrong-doing, and seek to check its ravages.

(b) Be alert amid opportunities to rescue the victims of iniquity from their woes.

(c) Our own salvation is without guarantee unless we also seek “by all means to save some.” For we may inherit judgment for neglect of those “ready to perish.”

(d) The very spirit of Christianity incites to eager and loving endeavour to “convert the sinner from the error of his ways, save his soul from death, and hide the multitude of his sins.”


Certainly “this present world” (Titus 2:12) is not very friendly or favourable to active sanctity.

Yet it is the only world in which the human character and life can rise out of sin into active sanctity. Death closes the door on opportunity. “As the tree falleth so shall it lie.”
Hence the urgency and repetition of this call of God, pleading with men to “sanctify yourselves.” Is it possible to effect this? How may we thus attain to sanctity? By


There must be diligent, strenuous and minute regard to every “Thou shalt not” of God’s Word. Assuredly, all sinful propensity in us must be repressed; all habits of evil denied; all indulgence of impure imaginations and desires refused. “Taste not, touch not, handle not.” “Put off the works of darkness.” “Crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts.” This chapter shows us how in many sinful ways and works of the flesh we must “deny ourselves.”

In order to this negation of all unholy dispositions and practices we shall need that “grace may abound.” For sinful man is “weak through the flesh.” But this grace is available to us in Jesus Christ.


The affirmative side of sanctity is certainly not less important than the negative. “Do this and thou shalt live.” “Ye shall keep my statutes and do them” (Leviticus 20:8).

A practical piety is imperative. To secure that the “house be empty and swept” is something; iniquities cast out of the heart and life: but the good, the true, the devout, the lovely must also be brought in. To have the vine pruned and purged of all dead and fruitless boughs is necessary; but equally it is desiderated that what remains should “bring forth much fruit.”
He who would “sanctify himself” must therefore cultivate pure affections, thoughts and desires; practise the duties and obligations of religion, maintain habits of rectitude and godliness: “perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.” He who is “watchful unto prayer,” “alive unto God,” quick to heed and obey His word, will not fail to attain to these affirmative qualities of sanctity.


“Sanctify yourselves” (Leviticus 20:7), for “I am the Lord which sanctify you” (Leviticus 20:8).

All His

(1) disciplinary corrections and afflictions;

(2) Scripture teachings and promises;

(3) spiritual communications and religious privileges;

(4) gifts and comfort of His Holy Spirit;

(5) purifying power of the indwelling love of Christ, are resources of God’s sanctifying, with which He seals our earnest endeavours after holiness.

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).


Every one that curseth his father or his mother shall surely be put to death,etc. (Leviticus 20:9).

Family life should be a source and centre of consolation, affection and delight; parents proving a comfort and benediction to their children, and children bringing gladness and honour to their parents.

Home is the sphere of harmony and peace.

Fearful is the conception of an accursed family: abusive children, agonized parents! It is the most dreadful perversion which earth contains; love changed into cursing; duty into rebellion; purity into foulness; rest into hateful strife and war It is clearly true of such children that they are—

I. A GRIEF TO THEIR PARENTS. Bitter the very thought—“he hath cursed his father or his mother.”

1. The grief of blighted hopes. What tender and bright expectations were centred in the little one as parents first looked upon their cherished child!

They are idols of hearts and of households,
They are angels of God in disguise.—Chas. M. Dickenson.

Terrible the grief when all glad hopes are desolated, and what promised joy and love only yields a “curse.”

2. The grief of outraged affection. No stint of fond thought and care is lavished on the child.

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child.—Shakespeare.

3. The grief of frustrated prayer. Over the children’s heads parents have bowed in supplication to God, and pleadings full of heartfelt fervour have been poured. Yet is this what results—a “curse” in the home, a terror to the parental heart!

4. The grief of ruined happiness. How can joy ever again dwell in the parent’s soul against whom his own child has risen with “cursings”? It must darken all the light of earthly gladness; and it must deeply shade even the anticipations of heaven—for no place in “the Father’s house “will be found for a child who brought a curse into his earthly home.

II. A GRIEF TO THEMSELVES. Dreadful the penalties which are threatened—“he shall surely be put to death; his blood is upon him.”

1. God’s anger will be upon him. A wicked son or daughter knows this awful fact before the judgment day arrives; God loathes the child who curses a parent It is a terrible thought to carry through life.

2. Human contempt will be won. For all respect and trust is forfeited by a child whose behaviour is so cruel; society shuns the unnatural creature where his or her conduct is known.

3. Conscience can never have peace. Children who have outraged home and left the parental roof have been harrowed through years with the woes of an “accusing conscience,” and traversed lands and seas to weep over a parent’s grave.

4. A retributive justice pursues them. Their own crime re-appears against them: for the very quality in themselves that rendered them capable of “cursing” their parents will betray itself in all relationships in after years, making them hateful and hated, and lay them open to the consequences. And this vile quality will re-appear in their offspring, and win back from their own children’s lips like “curses” which they once uttered themselves. God follows such cruelty to parents with relentless rigour. Penalty overtakes this crime in this life and doom awaits it hereafter.


1. Undutifulness to parents is inseparable from impiety towards God. Such sons and daughters are always godless, alien from all sacred duties and claims: “a smoke in God’s nostrils,” a dishonour to His laws.

2. Outrage to parental relationship and feeling is felt by God as an outrage on His own Fatherly love and grace. He feels a parent’s grief; and wrong done to so tender a relationship is a wound to the divine Father’s heart.

3. In His “beloved Son” and “holy child Jesus” God shows the fulness of affection which should mark a child: and it degrades the very name of a “son” and a “child,” the relationship which Jesus assumed, when it brings a curse upon human parents instead of love.

4. Home is God’s earthly type of heaven: and a home filled with “cursing” is a peculiar abomination to Him who designed our earthly homes to be a foretaste here of “the Father’s house” above. It is a most offensive and sorrowful evidence of the ravages which sin—“the abominable thing God hates”—has wrought in His world. How different this delineation of a “cursing” child from the poetic and the divine idea of a child.

A sweet new blossom of humanity

Fresh fallen from God’s own home to flower on earth.

Let parents, with diligent prayer and training, bring their children to Jesus; who alone can cast out the evil spirit from a child. [Compare Matthew 18:14; Matthew 18:21.]


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” (Leviticus 20:26).

The Hebrews were not only a royal nation, with Jehovah for their King, but they constituted an established church, not by the edict of any earthly monarch or political assembly, but by a royal proclamation from the Court of Heaven. That the people might know and ever remember the high dignity thus conferred upon them, Moses was directed to proclaim the fact in association with the promulgation of laws demanding holiness of heart and life. The Hebrew Church was composed of persons—

I. SEPARATED FROM THE WORLD, “have severed you from other people.” They had been delivered from Egypt, protected, preserved, guided, exceeding great and precious promises vouchsafed to them, beside laws for the regulation of their lives. They had been severed from other nations that they might become distinguished for purity, and be the means of blessing the world.

II. SEPARATED FROM SIN. “Ye shall be holy unto me.” All the rites and ceremonies imposed upon them were to this end. The divine image, lost by the fall, was to be restored. Holiness, to which the people were called, would not only produce happiness in the restored, but yield pleasure to Jehovah, whose name is holy.

III. CONSECRATED TO THE LORD. “Holy unto me.” The people were not to live for self-gratification, they were not their own or at their own disposal, their wills were to fall in with the divine will, they were to be holy for Jehovah’s sake All the services of the tabernacle, every sacrifice offered, would remind the worshippers of their duty to surrender themselves unreservedly to Him who had set them apart for His own service and glory.

IV. OWNED OF THE LORD. “That ye should be mine.” Herein we see the condescension of Jehovah, to take into His possession, as His intimate friends, such unworthy creatures as the Hebrews were. We see His infinite goodness in providing for their wants and educating them for a sublime position among the nations of the earth. He owned them, they were therefore to feel themselves at His disposal, and to act implicitly under His direction.

The same things hold good in the Christian Church. Believers are to come out from the ungodly, be distinct from the world. They are to be separate from sin and touch not the unclean thing. They are to be consecrated to the Lord, their motto “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” They are not their own, but bought with a price, even the precious blood of Christ. Let us warn others against sin; watch over our own hearts; pray for help to resist every temptation; avoid everything likely to contaminate; avail ourselves of every aid to growth in grace and progress in holiness.—F. W. B.

Topic: GODLY DISTINCTIVENESS (Leviticus 20:22-26)

It manifests itself in, and results from:—


“Ye shall keep all My statutes and all My judgments, and do them” (Leviticus 20:22).

No other people had a standard of morals, or a directory of religious regulations comparable to these.


“Ye shall not walk in the manners of the nations,” etc (Leviticus 20:23).

Conformity to the world was prohibited. However sanctioned, or desirable, or seemingly harmless, the customs of the ungodly were to be shunned.


“Ye shall put difference between clean and unclean,” etc (Leviticus 20:25).

Palate not to be gratified, tables not to be spread with promiscuous viands. God’s wish and word were to rule them in every enjoyment; and self restraint was to mark them in every gratification.


“Ye shall inherit their land, a land that floweth with milk and honey,” etc (Leviticus 20:24).

Sinners lose earthly felicities, as the penalty of their impiety: “therefore I abhorred them” (Leviticus 20:23).

The godly possess rich heritage of good as the mark of God’s favour: “I will give it unto you to possess” (Leviticus 20:24).


They show themselves to be—

1. Divinely “separated” (Leviticus 20:24) from other people. Their history and career attest God’s dealing with them as with no other people.

2. Divinely sanctified. (“Ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people” (Leviticus 20:26). For the very “beauty of the Lord” rests upon the character and conduct of those He redeems.

(a) God claims His people: they are not their own; may not follow their own desires and delights, He is their law, they must surrender to Him. “That ye should be mine” (Leviticus 20:26). It is a blessed fact to belong to God: but it carries its obligations.

(b) Priviliges are conditioned upon fidelity (Leviticus 20:22). The inheritance would be forfeited if obedience were withheld. All God’s covenant promises to us wait upon our loyalty to Him. “Ye are my friends if ye do,” etc.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Leviticus 20". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/leviticus-20.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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