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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 20

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-27


The subject of Leviticus 18:1-30, is resumed in this chapter; but that which was before considered as sin only is now regarded as crime, and penalties are attached according to the heinousness of the offense. For example, the sin of "giving of his seed to Molech," or which is the same thing, "letting any of his seed pass through the fire to Molech," had been forbidden as a sin in Leviticus 18:21; now it is condemned as a crime. The various penalties assigned in this chapter are

(1) burning with fire (Leviticus 18:14);

(2) stoning with stones (Leviticus 18:2, Leviticus 18:27);

(3) being put to death in a manner not specified (Leviticus 18:9, Leviticus 18:10, Leviticus 18:11, Leviticus 18:12, Leviticus 18:13, Leviticus 18:15, Leviticus 18:16);

(4) being cut off from among his people, either by God himself (Leviticus 18:4, Leviticus 18:5, Leviticus 18:6) or by an agency not specified (Leviticus 18:17, Leviticus 18:18);

(5) bearing his iniquity (Leviticus 18:17, Leviticus 18:19, Leviticus 18:20);

(6) childlessness (Leviticus 18:20, Leviticus 18:21).

The first of these penalties, burning with fire, does not mean that those on whom it was inflicted were burnt alive, but that their dead bodies were burnt after they had been stoned to death, as in the case of Achan (Joshua 7:25). It is the punishment for taking a mother and daughter together into the same harem (Leviticus 18:14). Stoning with stones is appointed for crimes which are at once offenses against religion and morals, viz. giving of his seed to Molech (Leviticus 18:2), and witchcraft (Leviticus 18:27). The other form of putting to death, which no doubt was strangling, is the penalty assigned to cursing parents (Leviticus 18:9), adultery (Leviticus 18:10), marriage or intercourse with a stepmother (Leviticus 18:11) or stepdaughter (Leviticus 18:12), the sin of Sodom (Leviticus 18:13), and bestiality (Leviticus 18:15, Leviticus 18:16). Cutting off from his people may be effected either by death (Leviticus 18:4, Leviticus 18:5, and perhaps 6), which is the penalty for Molech-worship, connivance at Molech-worship, and dealing with witches; or by excommunication (Leviticus 18:17, Leviticus 18:18), which was the punishment for intercourse with a sister, or with one who was unclean by reason of her monthly sickness (see Exodus 31:14).

The phrase, bearing his iniquity, means that the man continues in the state of a criminal until he has been cleansed either by suffering the punishment of his offense or making atonement for it, which sometimes he might, sometimes he might not, do. The man who committed incest with a sister would "bear his iniquity" (Leviticus 18:17), because he would be put in a state of excommunication without permission of restoration by means of sacrificial offerings. And so with the man who took his aunt by blood (Leviticus 18:19) or by marriage (Leviticus 18:20) as his wife,—he would not be allowed to recover his status by offering sacrifice. Childlessness, the punishment for marrying an uncle's or brother's wife, probably means that in those eases the offender's children should not be counted as his own, but should be entered in the genealogical register as his uncle's or his brother's children.

Leviticus 20:2, Leviticus 20:3

The close connection between giving of his seed unto Molech and defiling my sanctuary, and profaning my holy name, is explained and illustrated by Ezekiel in the judgment on Aholah and Aholibah. "They have caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass for them through the fire, to devour them. Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths. For when they had slain their children to their idols, then they came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of mine house" (Ezekiel 23:37-39). Not only was the juxtaposition and combination of the worship of Molech and Jehovah an offense to him whose name is Jealous, but at the time that Molech-worship was carried on in the valley of Hinnom, idols were set up in the court of the temple itself, as we learn from the Book of Kings and from Jeremiah. "But they set their abominations in the house, which is called by my Name, to defile it. And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which! commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin" (Jeremiah 32:34, Jeremiah 32:35). And of Manasseh it is related, "He built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord said, In Jerusalem will I put my Name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he made his son pass through the fire" (2 Kings 21:4-6).

Leviticus 20:4, Leviticus 20:5

There is to be no connivance with Molech-worship. The penalty is death, and is to be carried out by the proper tribunals, whose business it was to see that the stoning took place. So in Deuteronomy the duty of killing those who entice to idolatry is laid down. "Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shall thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: but thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people" (Deuteronomy 13:8, Deuteronomy 13:9). In the case of Molech-worship God declares that, if the tribunals of the nation fail to adjudge the penalty of death to the offender, he will himself lake the matter into his hands, and cut him off with his family and all that follow him in his sin of unfaithfulness.

Leviticus 20:6

God will also himself cut off from among his people any that, not content with lawful and godly knowledge, turn after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them.

Leviticus 20:7, Leviticus 20:8

A positive command, Sanctify yourselves therefore, and he ye holy: for I am the Lord your God, is introduced early in the list of penalties to show what is the main purpose of the latter. The only way in which the nation can recover holiness lost by the sins of its members, is by the punishment of the latter, or by their purification by means of sacrifice, according to the nature of the offense.

Leviticus 20:9

See above, the note on Leviticus 19:14, which shows how God's word is made of none effect by man's traditions. God says that a man who curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death. Human authority, incontrovertible throughout a great part of Christendom, declares that in most cases it is no grave sin.

Leviticus 20:10

The Hebrew punishment for adultery is more severe than that of most other nations. Death is again pronounced as the penalty of both adulterer and adulteress in Deuteronomy 22:22. The crime is that of a man with a married woman, whether the man be married or not; it is not that of a married man with an unmarried woman, which, in a country where polygamy was allowed, could not be regarded in the same light.

Leviticus 20:11, Leviticus 20:12

It should be noted that intercourse with a stepmother or daughter-in-law are put, by the punishment inflicted upon them, on the same level with adultery and unnatural crimes (Leviticus 20:10, Leviticus 20:13, Leviticus 20:15, Leviticus 20:16).

Leviticus 20:13-19

(See Le Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 18:17, Leviticus 18:23, Leviticus 18:9, Leviticus 18:19, Leviticus 18:12.)

Leviticus 20:20, Leviticus 20:21

They shall die childless;… they shall be childless. "It cannot be supposed that a perpetual miracle was to be maintained through all the ages of Israel's history; but the meaning evidently is that the children of such marriages should be reckoned, not to their actual father, but to the former husband of the woman. In the strong feeling of the Israelites in regard to posterity, this penalty seems to have been sufficient" (Gardiner).

Leviticus 20:22, Leviticus 20:23

The fact of the nations of Canaan being abhorred by God because they committed all these things shows that the Levitical code forbidding all these things was no part of any special law for that nation alone, hut a republication of that Law which is binding on all nations because written on the conscience. The prohibited degrees in the Book of Leviticus form a part of the moral, not of the ceremonial, law, and are, therefore, of permanent and universal, not only of temporary and national, obligation.

Leviticus 20:24-26

The Israelites are to avoid all defilement, moral and ceremonial, because they are God's own possession, separated from other people, and holy unto him.

Leviticus 20:27

Those that deal in witchcraft are to be stoned.


Leviticus 20:1, Leviticus 20:21

The difference between the religious and the secular law

is more marked in modern nations than in the Hebrew commonwealth; the primary object of the first being to forbid and prevent sin; of the second, to protect life and property. The distinction is shown by the separation of the eighteenth and the twentieth chapters; but as in the Mosaic legislation both the law which denounces sin and the law which pronounces penalties for crime proceeded from God, it was not necessary that the boundaries between the two should be marked and defined with the same exactness as when man is legislator; for man cannot venture to gauge the relative enormities of sins, and assign to them their respective punishments, except so far as he is led by the hand by the revelation of God. He can only judge of wrongs and injuries to his fellow-men. In the present age of the world, when the State and the Church are no longer identical, as they were in the case of the Israelites, each law fulfils its function best by confining itself to its proper sphere. The religious law, basing itself on the Divine Law, prohibits and denounces sin; the secular law, being an elaboration by the human intellect of the idea of justice in its various applications to the events of human life, condemns and punishes crimes, by which wrong is done to others.

Leviticus 20:6, Leviticus 20:27

The pursuit of knowledge by right means

is one of the highest and noblest occupations of the intellect of man, but the seeking after knowledge by unlawful means is so criminal as to lead God to cut off the presumptuous seeker from among his people. It was grasping after a forbidden knowledge by unrighteous means that brought death into the world (Genesis 3:6). All dealing in necromancy and witchcraft involves this sin on the part of the inquirer into futurity, whether those whom they consult be merely deceivers or not.

Leviticus 20:9

Just as the negative law, "Thou shalt do no murder," involves the positive law, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour," so the law forbidding to curse a father or a mother contains within it the law of reverential submission to parents and to all in authority.

Leviticus 20:26

The command, "Ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy," is binding upon Christians far more strongly than on the Israelites. For—

I. CHRISTIANS HAVE A POWER GIVEN THEM WHEREBY THEY CAN BE HOLY WHICH THE ISRAELITES HAD NOT. St. Paul, having declared that the final purpose of God's election and our adoption in Christ is "that we should be holy and without blame before him in love" (Ephesians 1:4), goes on to say that to those who believed, on hearing the gospel of their salvation preached, there was given the earnest of the Holy Spirit, with which they were sealed unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 1:14). The Spirit of holiness is given to every baptized Christian soul, in a way in which he was not imparted to the Israelites, the dispensation of types and shadows having given place to that of spiritual realities, and the promised Comforter having been sent, not only to be with us, but to be in us (John 14:16, John 14:17; John 16:7-15).

II. CHRISTIANS HAVE IN CHRIST AN EXAMPLE OF DIVINE HOLINESS WHICH THE ISRAELITES HAD NOT. They are therefore able to realize more fully than the Israelites the manner in which they are to "be holy, for the Lord your God is holy." They see before them the example of One who is God, and who emptied himself of his glory and power, and was made man, and lived a life of perfect holiness on earth. On this model they can, by the help of that Spirit vouchsafed to each Christian, form their own lives. It is an ideal never to be attained, but yet to have an ideal is an inexpressible help.

III. CHRISTIANS, BY THEIR UNION WITH CHRIST AS THEIR HEAD, RECEIVE FROM HIM OF HIS HOLINESS. God has given Christ "to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is his body" (Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 1:23), and has gathered "together in one all things in Christ" (Ephesians 1:10), that we "may grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ: from whom the whole body … maketh increase … unto the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:16). "Christ is the Head of the Church, as the husband is head of the wife" (Ephesians 5:23), and "we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones" (Ephesians 5:30). The Word is "full of grace and truth … and of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace" (John 1:14-16). From the mystical union between Christ and his Church there flow down graces upon those who are the members of his Church.

IV. CHRISTIANS CAN BY FAITH APPROPRIATE TO THEMSELVES OF THE HOLINESS OF CHRIST. By faith the holiness, whereby satisfaction was made by Christ for the sinfulness of all mankind, may be so realized by the believing Christian as to be regarded as though it were his own in respect to his own sins.


Leviticus 20:1-5

Human sacrifices.

cf. Genesis 22:1-19; Micah 6:7. In this chapter we come to a catalogue of capital crimes. Upon the whole list of cases we need not dwell; but the first has some interest as raising the question of "human sacrifices." How early the terrible practice of offering "the fruit of the body" in atonement for" the sin of the soul" arose, we can scarcely say. It has been supposed to be as early, at all events, as the time of Abraham. Some entertain the notion that the sacrifice of Isaac was primarily a temptation to imitate the custom existing in the land. But if the horrible custom existed in Abraham's day, nothing could more clearly convey that the Divine pleasure rested in other sacrifices altogether than the details of the escape of Isaac. The custom of human sacrifices was widespread, as investigations show. £ Here and elsewhere the Lord sets his face against them. Let us see if we can grasp the principle involved.

I. HUMAN SACRIFICE IS THE NATURAL CLIMAX OF THE SACRIFICIAL IDEA. "If no scruples," says Ewald, "held a man back from giving the dearest he had when a feeling in his heart drove him to sacrifice it to his God just as it was, then he would easily feel even the life of a beloved domestic animal not too dear to be given up at his heart's urgent demand, Nay, only in the offering up of life or soul, as the last that can be offered, did it seem to him that the highest was presented. But the logical consequence of such feelings was that human life must ultimately be looked upon as incomparably the highest and most wondrous offering, whether the life offered be that of a stranger or, as that which is dearest to one, that of one's own child, or even of one's self. Thus human sacrifice was everywhere the proper crown and completion of all these utterances of the fear of God." The case of Abraham is one in point. When God for wise purposes demanded the surrender of the only begotten and well-beloved son, Isaac, he asked the patriarch for the greatest conceivable sacrifice; and, so far as intention is concerned, Abraham made the surrender. It has been called on the patriarch's part a "magnificent and extraordinary act of romantic morals." £ While, therefore, it was in reality, as we shall see, a condemnation of human sacrifices as such, it illustrates their real spirit.

II. HUMAN SACRIFICE IS AT THE SAME TIME SUCH A MONSTROUS AND EXTRAVAGANT EXPRESSION OF THE SACRIFICIAL IDEA THAT NOTHING BUT A DIVINE COMMAND WOULD WARRANT THE ENTERTAINMENT OF IT. What distinguishes Abraham's case in connection with the proposed sacrifice of Isaac from that of all other sacrifices of human life is that he had a command of God to go upon, while the others followed the devices of their own hearts. So sacred should human life appear to men, that the idea of taking it away should only be entertained under the most solemn sanctions. Besides, but for the sin-distorted mind of man, it would appear that the consecration of human beings as "living sacrifices," is in itself far higher and nobler than their death (Romans 12:1). To take innocent infants and place them in the flaming arms of Molech must appear a most monstrous and exaggerated expression of the sacrificial idea.

But would God, in any circumstances, command human sacrifices? As a matter of fact, men were sacrificed through capital punishment. The present chapter is full of capital crimes. Men died under the direction of God for their crimes. This, however, is not the sacrificial idea, which involves the sacrifice of the innocent in the room of the guilty. This was doubtless what led the infants to be favourite sacrifices with the heathen—the innocency of the sufferer constituted the greater appeal to the angry deity. We observe, then—

III. THAT GOD FORBADE, UNDER THE PENALTY OF DEATH, HUMAN SACRIFICES, AND IN THE ONLY CASE WHERE lie SEEMED TO DEMAND A HUMAN SACRIFICE HE HAD PROVIDED A SUBSTITUTE. He made the offering of children to Molech a capital crime. This was not aimed at the idolatry only, but at the unwarranted exaggeration of the sacrificial idea. Besides, in the ease of Isaac, just when Abraham was about to slay him, God interposed with a provided substitute. All God required in Abraham's peculiar case was the spirit of surrender. He guards, therefore, his prerogative of dealing with life, and enjoins his people only to take human life away when he directs them. They are not to presume to offer such a sacred gift as human lie upon his altar in the way of sacrifice. They may dedicate themselves and their children as living beings to his service, but their death he requires not in such a voluntary fashion at their hands.

IV. AT THE SAME TIME, WE FIND HUMAN LIFE REGULARLY SACRIFICED IN THE ORDER OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE AND AT THE CALL OF DUTY. That is to say, though we have not monstrous and unhallowed sacrifices required of God at his altars, he does make demands on men and women to surrender, like Abraham, their sons, or to surrender themselves at the call of duty. This is indeed as real a sacrifice as in the arms of Moloch, and at the same time a far nobler one. In fact, self-sacrifice seems to be a law of providence in the case of all who would be truly noble in their careers. The voluntary element, coming in along with the sweet reasonableness of the sublime necessity, vindicates the morality of the whole transaction. Men and women cheerfully lay down their lives in gradual sacrifice to duty's call, or sometimes in sudden and immediate sacrifice. And the act is moral as welt as heroic.

V. THIS LEADS TO A LAST OBSERVATION, THAT HUMAN SACRIFICE HAD ITS GREAT CULMINATION AND CLIMAX IN THAT OF JESUS CHRIST, For what God did not require from Abraham—the actual sacrifice of his son—he has required of himself. The demand for a human sacrifice made only apparently in the case of Isaac, was made really in the case of Christ. An innocent, sinless human being was once commanded by his God and Father to lay down his life and bear, in doing so, the sins of man. Hence we find him saying, "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again" (John 10:17). It would seem a harsh command, a cruel necessity, were it not that the Father and Son are essentially one, and the commandment that the Son should die was virtually Divine self-sacrifice. "He who is sent is one in being with him who sends." The atonement of Christ is really the self-sacrifice of God.

Hence the only human sacrifice demanded is God incarnate responding to himself. The necessity for thus atoning for human sin at the expense of self-sacrifice is in the main mysterious. But its very mystery makes it more deeply profitable to faith. How great must God's love be when it leads him to lay down his own life and die ignominiously in the interests of men! The ram which was offered in the stead of Isaac is the type of the self-sacrificing Jesus who was offered for us.—R.M.E.


Leviticus 20:1-5

Sin at its worst.

There is, perhaps, no development of sin which is more shocking to the renewed mind of man, and more offensive to the pine and gracious heart of God, than that which is here condemned. The verses intimate—

I. THAT SIN SOMETIMES LEADS TO A SHOCKING DISTORTION OF THE HUMAN JUDGMENT. How, we naturally ask, could men ever come to believe in the desirableness of such inhuman rites as those here prohibited? That any Divine Being could possibly be conciliated by the infliction of a cruel death, by the offering up of little children to consuming fires, by this presentation on the part of their own parents! How revolting and incredible seem such ideas! There is no account to be given of it hut that sin, as it goes on its maleficent path, not only disfigures the life and corrupts the heart, but also degrades and distorts the understanding of men. It ends in the "evil eye" and so in the "great darkness" of the soul (Matthew 6:23).

II. THAT GOD CANNOT AND WILL NOT PERMIT THE GLORY WHICH IS DUE TO HIMSELF TO BE GIVEN TO ANOTHER. "I will set my face against that man" (Leviticus 20:3). God has emphatically said, "My glory will I not, give to another" (Isaiah 42:8). The "face of the Lord is against" them that withhold their homage from the Creator, and offer worship and tribute to false gods. This,

(1) not on the selfish ground that he can claim and secure something for himself which he desires, after the manner of men, but

(2) on the ground that it is in itself right and fit that men should worship the one true God, and

(3) also because idolatry is not only a guilty but a mischievous principle working every imaginable harm to those who commit it. If we are keeping back from God and giving to another or to ourselves the thought, interest, affection, regard, which is due to him, we must remember that we make the Almighty our enemy; his "face is against us."

III. THAT DELIBERATE TRANSGRESSION MAKES ALL WORSHIP UNACCEPTABLE, IF NOT SINFUL. The man who, while flagrantly violating the Law of Jehovah by "giving his seed unto Molech," presented himself, at the same time, before the tabernacle, was only "defiling the sanctuary" of the Lord and "profaning his holy Name" (Leviticus 20:3) by such worthless devotion. God did not desire to see in his presence a man who was willfully and wantonly committing such a heinous sin. No man is more welcome to the throne of grace than the penitent sinner who is burdened with a sense of guilt and who craves the mercy and help of the Divine Saviour. But let not that man who is cherishing sin in his soul think that his offering is accepted of the Lord. It is hypocrisy, profanation (see Psa 1:1-6 :16; Isaiah 1:11, Isaiah 1:12).

IV. THAT UNREPENTED SIN MUST BEAR ITS DOOM. "He shall surely be put to death," etc. (Leviticus 20:2); "I will cut him off from among his people" (Leviticus 20:3). There is no provision here stated of mercy for the penitent. Probably none was allowed; the exigencies of the situation demanded death under any circumstances. Under the present dispensation there is an offer of Divine mercy to the penitent, whatever their sins may be, however many, however great. But the impenitent must lay their account with the fact that they have offended One who "will by no means clear the guilty," who will "surely" punish and destroy.

V. THAT CONNIVANCE AT DEADLY SIX IS A GUILTY PARTICIPATION IN WRONG, AND MUST SHARE ITS MISERABLE DOOM. (Leviticus 20:4, Leviticus 20:5.) There are evils at which no friendship however dear, no kinship however close, may dare to wink. We must unsparingly denounce and even determinedly expose.


Leviticus 20:6

Credulity and faith.

This, also, is an injunction which Moses had given before, and which he was instructed to repeat (see Le Leviticus 19:31). Our thought may be directed to—

I. THE PREVALENCE OF IMPOSTURE. There has never been a time nor a land without its "familiar spirits," its "wizards," or impostors of some kind and name. Men have claimed the power of gaining extraordinary access to the spiritual world, or superhuman knowledge of the future, and they have imposed on the ungoverned curiosity of their simple neighbours. The presence of such workers in magic is almost universal. The love of power and the love of money will account for it. So must it be while there is—

II. THE CORRESPONDING PREVALENCE OF CREDULITY. The number of "the simple" is very large everywhere. Men and women are always to be found, in pitiful abundance, who will respond to any claim made upon their belief. There is hardly an absurdity too glaring, a falsehood too palpable to be discredited by all. Let the impostor only he confident and pretentious enough, and he will find a number who will listen with eagerness and believe without question or proof.

III. ITS UTTER DELUSIVENESS. The entire system is false and rotten throughout; it is a mass of trickery, delusion, and disappointment.

1. Those who practice it soon impose upon themselves; they come to believe that they are really admitted to the secrets of the other world, and they are the victims of their own roguery. Sin tests no one so hard as the sinner himself; its rebound is terrible and deadly. He who, with guilty selfishness, would deceive his fellows, will soon entangle his foot in his own net and perish in his own snare (Psalms 7:15; Psalms 9:15).

2. They also grossly deceive their neighbours. They who listen to their voice believe that they are holding intercourse with heaven, or are gaining instruction from those supernaturally endowed, when the truth is they are only dealing with men who are unusually wicked, and who should only be heard to be disregarded or denounced.

IV. ITS SINFULNESS IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. Resort to imposture is positively wrong. In this book God uttered and repeated his Divine prohibition, and he strengthened his law by attaching the heaviest penalties to disobedience: "I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off," etc. The heinousness of the practice probably lay in the fact that it was a deliberate departure from the Lord himself. There was his house, and there were his prophets to resort unto; to pass these by in order to consult pretenders and impostors was to forsake God and to go "a whoring" after other beings and other things. And thus our thought is directed to—

V. THE EXCELLENCY OF A REASONABLE FAITH. The children of Israel had such access to the spiritual world and such knowledge of the future as it was good for men to have. Was not God himself, in manifested presence and in revealing grace, in their camp? Was he not speaking to them as to the future that was before them? Was he not ready to give them prophets who would not impose on them with shameful lies, but guide them with the word of truth? We, too, have all we need without having recourse to subtle and spiritualistic arts. We have:

1. The Word of God upon our tables and in our minds.

2. The devout counsels of wise and holy men.

3. The promised guidance of the Spirit of God.

Fictitious arts are sinful and delusive. The wisdom that is from God is not only sound bat sufficient. That which is more than this "cometh of evil."—C.

Leviticus 20:7, Leviticus 20:8

Sanctity-demand, inducement, promise.

Once "again" (Leviticus 20:2) Moses utters the Divine will in this great matter of holiness (see Le Leviticus 11:44; Leviticus 19:2). We have—

I. GOD'S IMPERATIVE DEMAND OF SANCTITY. "Sanctify yourselves." "Ye shall keep my statutes, and do them." The Creator of the universe, the Author of our being, the Father and Sustainer of our spirits, has sovereign right to speak to us in such decisive tones. He demands of us that we shall be "holy," i.e.,

(1) that we shall expel from heart and life all those sinful habits by which men have defiled themselves: thus shall we "be severed from other people" (Leviticus 20:26), whose spirit and life are hateful; and

(2) that we shall approach him, honour him, and pay him the tribute he asks of us, and also act righteously and blamelessly toward our fellows, "keeping his statutes and doing them."

II. THE HIGH INDUCEMENT HE PRESENTS TO US. "Be ye holy: for I am the Lord your God." We may gird ourselves to good and great things, animated by different motives; of these some may be higher, others lower. God summons us to be holy for the highest reason of all, viz. because we shall thus resemble him. "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16). Other reasons abound: holiness

(1) is the best thing in itself;

(2) saves us from many and great spiritual evils;

(3) delivers us from dark and awful penalties;

(4) allies us to the noblest created beings, etc.; but the best and loftiest of all considerations is that

(5) it makes us like God, the Holy One, himself. His spirit is our spirit; his principles, our principles; his life, our life. We are "the children of our Father who is in heaven."

III. HIS PROMISED HELP. "I am the Lord which sanctify you." The action of God upon our souls has been treated, both by the foolish and by the wicked, as a reason for human impassiveness. Foolish men have said, "God is working for us and in us, therefore it would be irreverent for us to attempt to do anything; we should only interfere." Wicked men have said, "God works for us, therefore we may safely live in comfortable unconcern and guilt while we wait his time of deliverance." The "children of wisdom" have said, "God is ready to work with us, there[ore let us strive with all our energies, for, with his help, we shall not strive in vain." This is the apostle's argument: "Work out your own salvation,… for it is God which worketh in you," etc. (Philippians 2:12, Philippians 2:13). All our endeavours might be unavailing; we might contend against the strong current of sin and be baffled and borne along its stream, but if God himself is sanctifying us, we shall prevail. Let us go forth unto the struggle, for we shall assuredly succeed. God sanctifies us in such wise that he acts with us while he acts in us and for us. He sanctifies us by

(1) the truth of his Word (John 17:17): this we are to consult; by

(2) the privileges of the sanctuary (Ezekiel 37:28): of these we are to avail ourselves; by

(3) his providential discipline (Hebrews 12:10): to this we are to submit; by

(4) the indwelling of his Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16): for this we are earnestly to pray and expectantly to wait.—C.

Leviticus 20:9 (latter clause)

The unforgiven.

"His blood shall be upon him;" "their blood shall be upon them" (Leviticus 20:13, Leviticus 20:16, Leviticus 20:27). These words have a deeper significance than a mere repetition of the sentence, "He shall be put to death." They signify this: his sin cannot be forgiven him. It was the blood of the animal that "made atonement for the soul" (Leviticus 17:11). It was the shed blood, therefore, that was associated, in thought, with the penalty due to sin. And when the legislator said.

"His Mood shall be upon him," he meant his penalty shall rest upon him—it shall not be borne and taken away by the blood of the substituted victim. In other words, "He shall bear his iniquity," or the penalty of his iniquity, himself (see Le Leviticus 7:18). There have always been, and there will always be, in the world "the unforgiven;" men, like Cain, who bear about them the brand of an unpardonable offense; sons and daughters who have erred and have not been taken back into parental love; criminals that have lost the place in society which they have no hope of regaining; forlorn wretches that have so sinned against their conscience that they cannot forgive themselves, and have abandoned themselves to a terrible despair. But what of the Divine forgiveness or refusal to forgive? We are taught—

I. THAT PROVISION WAS MADE IN THE LAW FOR THE PARDON OF MANY OFFENSES. This was the end of all the sin and trespass offerings, and on the Day of Atonement "all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions" were "borne away" into the uninhabited land, into the wilderness of oblivion (Leviticus 16:21, Leviticus 16:22).

II. THAT UNDER THE LAW THERE WERE OFFENSES WHICH COULD NOT BE THUS ATONED, AND WERE NOT FORGIVEN. Those who wrought shameful acts of idolatry or immorality could bring no oblation to the altar; they could look for no mercy; no blood of atonement was availing; their "blood was upon them ;" they died before the Lord.


(1) a sin which was possible in the days of the Incarnation and is absolutely beyond commission now, or

(2) consists in that hardening of the heart against the Spirit's influence which results in final impenitence. But where there is repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, there is an open gate into the kingdom of God's mercy, into eternal life. No heinousness of offense, no multiplicity of transgressions, bars the way. "By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the Law of Moses" (Acts 13:39).

IV. THAT MANY SOULS, THOUGH WALKING IN THE LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL, ARE CONTENT TO RANK AMONG THE UNFORGIVEN. In the light, in the full sunshine of privilege and opportunity, there are thousands of men who do not find, because they will not seek, the mercy and the friendship of God. They live unforgiven; "their blood is upon them." They go through life

(1) with an oppressive sense of condemnation upon them;

(2) excluding themselves from purest spiritual blessedness (Psalms 32:1, Psalms 32:2);

(3) voluntarily unfitted for the highest service man can render his brother.

V. THAT THE IMPENITENT PASS INTO THE FUTURE WITH UNFORGIVEN SIN UPON THEIR SOUL. How terrible to pass beyond the line which bounds the period of probation with our "blood upon us;" to pass on

(1) to condemnation and reproach at the bar of God,

(2) to exile from the heavenly city,

(3) to the retribution which the justice of God must inflict!

Go, in the day of grace, to the "Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," through whom there is "remission of sins" (Luke 24:47).—C.

Leviticus 20:23 (latter part)

God's displeasure with ourselves.

"They committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them." This expression arrests us by—

I. ITS SOMEWHAT STARTLING STRENGTH. "I abhorred them." Does God positively abhor man? the Creator his creature? the Father his child? Are we to understand that the Lord, who is "gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy," feels an actual abhorrence of those beings to whom he is so nearly and intimately related, those human spirits he formed for himself, to reflect his own image and to enjoy his own immortal blessedness? The word startles us; it may well alarm us; it suggests the question, Is it possible that we also may become such that our God may be compelled to look on us with a displeasure which amounts to abhorrence? We look at—

II. THE SAD AND SOLID TRUTH WHICH IT CONTAINS. "God hates the sin and loves the sinner," we say, and truly. Yet this sentence does not cover the whole truth of the case. God does pity the sinner, and seeks to save him. But he is displeased with him also. Of anything like malignity or ill will we rejoice to know that the holy and gracious One is absolutely incapable; but we are bound to believe that he feels a sacred and holy resentment against those who violate the laws of righteousness.

1. Scripture plainly affirms that he does. "Therefore I abhorred them;" "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psalms 7:11); "the Lord hath been sore displeased with your fathers" (Zechariah 1:2); "they vexed his Holy Spirit" (Isaiah 63:10); "he looked on them with anger" (Mark 3:5); to "them that obey unrighteousness" God will render "indignation and wrath" (Romans 2:8).

2. It is impossible wholly to separate the act from the agent. An act has no moral qualities at all apart from the disposition and character of him who does it. If our indignation is aroused by any shameful deed, it is because some one has wrought that which is wrong, and our feeling must extend to the perpetrator as well as to the crime. In theory it must do so; in fact it does so. We cannot see our own children doing that which is guilty without being displeased with them as well as excited with indignation against the wrong they have done. Our feelings of holy anger, indignation, righteous grief, etc; may not be precisely, identical with those which are in the heart of God when he looks down on the sins of his human children, but they answer to them; they correspond with them; they enable us to understand how he, our Divine Father, feels toward us when we do those things which are offensive and grievous in his sight. Let us lay it well to heart that by

(1) our positive transgressions of his holy Law,

(2) our keeping back from him the love and the service which are his due,

(3) the continued rejection of his overtures of mercy and reconciliation in Christ Jesus, we are offending, displeasing, grieving God.

These our sins are drawing down upon our own souls the awful anger; the high displeasure, of that Almighty God in whom we live, who has ourselves and our future in his right hand of power, whom it is our chief duty, and should be our first desire, to conciliate and please. We glance at—

III. THE WELCOME TRUTH WITH WHICH IT IS CONSISTENT. While God bates sin and is divinely displeased with the sinner, he yet pities the sinner and seeks to save him. He condemns, but he invites. "Is Ephraim my dear son?… since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still" (Jeremiah 31:20). As a human father over his lost son or erring daughter, only with immeasurably deeper love, he yearns over his wayward children, and goes out to welcome them home, when, returning to themselves, they return unto him (Luke 15:11-24).—C.

Leviticus 20:24

Three aspects of human life.

The verse suggests three thoughts concerning our human life—

I. THE EXCELLENCY OF OUR ESTATE. "A land that floweth with milk and honey." God .gave the Israelites an excellent inheritance when he led them into the land. of promise. For beauty, variety of scenery, fertility, etc; it was all that could be desired. Our present estate as citizens of time is one rich and full, a "land flowing," etc. We have:

1. The beauty and grandeur of the world.

2. Human love in its manifold forms, conjugal, parental, filial, fraternal, etc.

3. Sufficiency of all kinds of palatable food.

4. Intellectual gratifications.

5. Spiritual relationships and the sacred, enduring joys which belong to these.

II. THE TENURE UNDER WHICH WE HOLD POSSESSION. "I will give it unto you to possess it." We reckon that we "possess" many things. We call them "ours." We endeavour to secure them to ourselves by carefully drawn documents and witnesses. But what, when all has been done that can be done, is the tenure under which we hold everything? It is not the consent of man, but the will of God. God said to Israel concerning the country of the Canaanites, "Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it." He thought well to take it away from its former occupants and give it to them. There were, no doubt, the best reasons for this exchange; but Jehovah evidently assumed his perfect right to dispose as seemed well to him of his own. God always has the best grounds on which to deal with us, raising up or laying low; he never acts capriciously; but he often acts without assigning reasons to us, and in such wise that we cannot make any conjecture thereupon that is even probably true. We must recognize the fact that we hold everything at his will, and be perfectly ready to lay it down or to hand it on to another at the bidding of the Supreme. This is true of

(1) our property and position,

(2) our mental powers,

(3) our health, and

(4) our life on earth.

III. THE PAINFUL NEED TO SEPARATE OURSELVES FROM OTHERS. "I am the Lord your God, which have separated you flora other people." By their daily habits and social customs (Leviticus 20:25), the Jews were cut off from intercourse with other people: intermarriages were strictly prohibited (Deuteronomy 7:3, Deuteronomy 7:4); they were to maintain a studied separateness from all surrounding nations. The conscientious service of God our Saviour involves some separateness on our part.

1. We have to form ourselves into separate societies, Christian Churches. From these we are bound, in faithfulness, to exclude those who do not profess to love our Lord Jesus Christ. This will produce resentment on their part, and cause them to ascribe to pride that which is due to simple loyalty to the Master.

2. We have to separate ourselves from those persons and things whose association would be injurious to the cause of Christ; from

(1) unholy friendships,

(2) institutions and customs which have evil features or evil tendencies,

(3) the abounding spirit of worldliness and selfishness.

We are bound to make it clear and plain to all that we are "on the Lord's side," and on the side of all those righteous and holy principles which he commends to us.—C.


Leviticus 20:1-27

Sin unto death.

The offenses described in this chapter were mentioned before. Such is our obtuseness that we need "line upon line." Adorable is that goodness of God which takes such pains with us. We have here—


1. Parents giving their seed to Moloch.

(1) This infernal god was the King of Tophet (Isaiah 30:33), and, in malignity, not to be distinguished from Satan. The sacrifices he demanded were human. By a refinement of cruelty he required parents to immolate their own offspring. They were offered to him in the horrible torments of fire. Nothing could be more devilish.

(2) In denouncing death as the penalty for this sin, the reason given is that it "defiled the sanctuary and profaned the holy Name" of God (Leviticus 20:3). The temple and the Shechinah were in the land, and to commit this wickedness there was consequently to commit the highest crime against the most awful sacredness. Also the body of man is the temple of God, and to give that temple to Molech was, in this sense, to defile the temple of God (see 1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 10:21).

(3) The penalty is denounced in order upon the Hebrew first. Having more light, he is in a higher degree responsible, and therefore is the first named to suffer (comp. Romans 2:9). Let not Protestant Christians forget their great responsibility.

(4) But the "strangers that sojourn in Israel" are amenable to the same punishment. They must not abuse their hospitality by showing an example of wickedness. This consideration should restrain the licentiousness in foreign countries of some of our travelers.

2. Persons having dealings with necromancy.

(1) The principals in this. Those "who have familiar spirits," or demons attendant upon them and obedient to their calls. "Wizards," or wise ones, viz. to pry into the "depths of Satan "(Leviticus 20:27). Such persons are accounted guilty of the highest crime, and were doomed to suffer death by stoning, without mercy.

(2) Their customers. Those who have recourse to such abandoned persons to discover things which it has not pleased God to reveal. Such pruriency into Divine mysteries is defiling (Leviticus 20:6; Leviticus 19:31).

(3) Those who would be sanctified by God must first sanctify themselves from these abominations. If they refuse to do this, God will sanctify himself of them by cutting them off (Leviticus 20:6, Leviticus 20:8).

3. Children who curse their parents.

(1) Those guilty of this irreverence must be woefully destitute of the fear of God (see Leviticus 19:32). Our fathers according to the flesh are to us representatives of our Father in heaven.

(2) So heinous is this crime that it must be punished with death. There is no atonement for it. "His blood shall be upon him." He must be made himself the sacrifice for his sin. What an admonition to the fast youth of modern times!

4. Excesses in uncleanness.

(1) Death, in one form or another, is the penalty for the horrible crimes specified (Leviticus 20:10-21). "Their blood shall be upon them;" "they shall be cut off from among their people;" "they shall bear their iniquity;" "they shall be stoned;" "they shall be burnt;" "they shall die childless."

(2) In this last the retribution must come speedily. Their cutting off out of the land of the living must be before any issue could come of their crime. It may also imply that any issue they may have already should be involved in the punishment of their sin (comp. Numbers 16:32; Joshua 7:24).


1. To withhold testimony against sin is to incur its guilt.

(1) It is here taken as complicity in the crime. He that "hides his eyes from the man" that giveth his seed to Moloch, so as to let him escape the hands of justice, is said to "commit whoredom with Moloch" (Leviticus 20:4, Leviticus 20:5). What a lesson is here to "peaceable" Christians who let swearers and other public offenders go unreproved!

(2) He that "hides his eyes," in this case, is visited with excommunication. For complicity in this gross idolatry, here described as "whoredom," God, as a jealous husband, gives his writing of divorcement. "I will set my face against that man,… and will cut him off from among his people." Not only is he expelled from the Church, but also from the nation, if not in addition doomed to suffer a violent death (comp. Le Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 26:17; Jeremiah 44:11-14; Ezekiel 14:7-9; Ezekiel 15:7).

(3) For this culpable want of zeal for the honour of God, the tacit accomplice in the abominations of Molech involves also his family in his punishment (Leviticus 20:5). How many illustrations of this principle have we in the history of the kings! (see Exodus 20:7). Sin is a desperate evil, and requires a strong hand to deal with it.

2. The testimony against sin is a sanctification to the witness (Leviticus 20:7, Leviticus 20:8).

(1) The faithful witness thereby sanctifies himself.

(a) He clears himself of all complicity.

(b) He approves himself to God as zealous for his truth, purity, and honour.

(c) He fulfils the part of a true patriot; for nations are exalted by righteousness and ruined by crime.

Public duty may cost us inconvenience, but it must not be neglected.

(2) He is sanctified by the Lord (Leviticus 20:8). God will honour them that honour him.

(a) He will bring them to dwell in the land (Leviticus 20:22). This possession was the earnest of the better Canaan. It was a "land flowing with milk and honey."

(b) He will watch over them as a proprietor over precious treasure. "They shall be mine" (Leviticus 20:26; Exodus 19:5, Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalms 135:4). "Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord."—J.A.M.


Leviticus 20:1-27

Punishments assigned to presumptuous sins.

I. THE LAW OF SOCIETY RESTS ON THE HIGHER LAW OF GOD. All legislation should be thus divinely sanctioned. The Bible is not a statute-book for nations, but a book of principles—to give light to the mind and heart of man as man. We must not enforce human law on Divine grounds, but we can use Divine revelation to ascertain the most satisfactory laws.

II. PUNISHMENTS vary from age to age and country to country, but the reason of punishment remains. The honour of the Law satisfied is the way of life opened.

III. The comparison between the Law and the gospel suggested by this chapter reveals the grace of God, the progress of humanity, the ultimate destiny of the race. The gradual extinction of the sins is the extinction of the laws which provided against them. "If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the Law" (see Galatians 5:1-26, and comp. James 1:1-27, James 2:1-26). The perfect law of liberty is a fulfillment of the old law, and therefore a blotting out of the handwriting of ordinances and nailing of them to the cross of Christ.—R.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Leviticus 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/leviticus-20.html. 1897.
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