Further thoughts and teaching on Leviticus chapter 20


I’ve commented on this and brought out most of the passage’s meaning in my comments on North’s chapter - that is, what Molech worship was and the all pervading nature and application of the legislation within the national boundaries of Israel.

I wish to make just one further point here.

I wrote about the need for corporate responsibility for witnesses to accept when giving evidence that condemns the transgressor in response to North’s paragraphs concerning the same - even though the Levitical passage doesn’t actually mention it.

Instead, these verses state that

‘...if the people of the land do at all hide their eyes from that man, when he gives one of his children to Molech, and do not put him to death, then I will set my face against that man and against his family, and will cut them off from among their people, him and all who follow him in playing the harlot after Molech’

That is, they exhort the Israelites to be responsible for the policing of their own nation. I’ve previously commented that the Mosaic Law knows no concept of a police force that sits independently apart from the people and who enforce the rules and regulations as they discover them being broken. Rather, it insists that it’s the people who are to take upon themselves responsibility for its enforcement that society might be a good place to live and that sin, when known, might not be allowed to fester and expand throughout the society by turning a blind eye.

Today’s society needs to learn this principle once again. Though this is too much a generalisation, men and women only shout for justice when their own rights have been violated, not when their neighbours are being attacked or when they themselves are breaking the laws of the land.

But, if a society (and I’m referring to the UK) is going to be a good place to live where it’s once again totally safe to go out on the streets after dark, then individuals must take it upon themselves, firstly, to live within the boundaries of all the law and then, secondly, to be enforcers of that law in the areas and situations around them.

Extra Police or extra powers for the Police won’t achieve a righteous society if there’s no individual righteous lifestyle.

20:6-9 (not dealt with by North)

The first part of the passage sits as the second of three passages on the subject of mediums and wizards (Lev 19:31 and 20:27 being the other two). Neither of them deals with the same aspect, this one detailing God’s action in opposing anyone who seeks them to enquire after them.

It’s probably intended to be taken as ‘undiscovered’ sin that’s here in question as the last of the three passages relates the punishment that was to be handed down to people who were discovered in this transgression.

Finally, a word concerning the cursing of parents is included which could be taken to be an expansion of Lev 19:3 previously discussed under that chapter - before that, the instruction was included in the ten commandments at Ex 20:12 where it included a positive reason for regarding one’s parents with honour. Here, though, the punishment is outlined for cursing them (and the ‘curse’ in Israel was more than bad language but involved using the name of God associated with a negative ‘wish’ or desire).

The death penalty is here commanded - it seems severe to modern day thinking (as it will in the next passage) but, as Harrison notes (page 205-6)

‘Since the parents symbolize God’s authority, being His surrogates from the standpoint of the children in the family, cursing them would be comparable to blasphemy’

At least, then, it’s understandable even if we might baulk at the idea. However, in today’s society (and I’m referring only to the UK in my comments) the command to ‘obey’ parents must be tempered with the state that the nation has slumped to – there’s a good reason, in some (but very rare) occasions, when obedience to parents is anything but sound advice. It’s a measure of the original purity of Israelite society that obedience and unswerving respect could have been a natural part of the Law with no conditional phrases!

20:10-21 (not dealt with by North)

These verses expand the legislation previously given in 18:6-23. There, the intention was to categorise the sin and to condemn it - here, the Law addresses the issue of punishment which is unswervingly the death sentence up to v.16. From there on, the punishment is various but the death penalty is never mentioned.

For further discussion on the sex laws, see my comments on North’s chapter 10 and the Further teaching on Leviticus chapter 18).

As was seen there, sexual promiscuity was considered to be one of the most dangerous sins of the entire legislation, seeing as it endangered the continued presence of the entire nation in their own land. Therefore the solution must be radical - and is.

The christian is confronted by problems concerning the death penalty that’s commanded upon all transgressors in the first seven verses of the passage under consideration. It’s made complicated by Jesus’ example recorded for us in John 7:53-8:11 (accepting that it’s part of the original text or, at the very least, authoritative Scripture) where the woman who was caught in adultery was sent away ‘uncondemned’ by Him.

Of course, the Law prescribed that both the man and woman were to be sentenced to death (Lev 20:10) and, if the woman had been caught (John 8:4)

‘...in the act of adultery’

it stands to reason that the Pharisees who brought the woman to Him knew all too well who the man was in question. Their insistence that Jesus make a decision that was grossly unfair may be partly the reason for His reaction to their insistence.

But it was also due to the heart of the Jewish leaders who were attempting to have Jesus condemn Himself before the Roman government for imposing the death penalty (something that they needed Roman sanction for) and, perhaps more significantly, that their ‘righteous indignation’ at the woman was actually hatred of the person and people like her who Jesus had unswervingly accepted as heirs of the Kingdom if repentance was their experience.

His command to the crowds (John 8:7)

‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her’

woke them up to their state of heart and wasn’t a comment on how the Law was to be applied.

Therefore (if this short exposition of that passage is correct), the death penalty would still be enforceable in a christian society where the State was ‘christian’ because of the severity of sin that could expel the entire nation from continued existence within their Sovereign land.

That sounds like a harsh judgment - in today’s society it will always sound hard because sexual promiscuity is acceptable behaviour. We would that the death penalty be inflicted upon child molesters and murderers but we don’t think that the sexual immorality that we experience is going to affect anyone but ourselves and our partners.

The Law says otherwise and, as I showed in the notes previously cited, the application is still relevant to today’s society.


This passage sits as the conclusion to the preceding verses (notice v.22’s ‘therefore’) and should be read in this context. I’ve previously dealt with the issue of ‘vomiting’ under my comments on North’s chapter 10 and noted in the ‘Further teaching’ that this conclusion sits as the end of regulations highlighting sex laws. I went on to conclude that transgression of moral sexual relations within any society necessarily puts that society under risk from the judgment of God demonstrated in their expulsion out of their land. This concerns v.22-24.

Verses 25-26 also represent a conclusion (again, the ‘therefore’ sits at the beginning of the verses) and should be seen to be a comment on v.22-24. Because the Canaanites were to be expelled from the land it should serve as reminder to the Israelites that they’re to distinguish between certain items and so keep themselves covenantally separate from the nations and the practices that are round about them.

Though I accept that these ‘segregations’ - these divisions between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ things - were largely meant for the nation ‘until Christ came’, they were necessarily important in maintaining separation and distinctiveness. Israel was to be seen to be different - not only morally but ceremonially. They were to be a light in the darkness of the nations that sat at their boundaries and all men were to marvel at the righteous precepts and rules that they lived by.

The sad truth is that Israel never fulfilled its calling - she never fully reached the potential that she was meant to before the Promised Seed, Jesus Christ, came to fulfil the Law and inaugurate the realisation of all that Abram had been promised before the Law.

20:27 (not dealt with by North)

Why does this verse occur here?

Why not after 19:31?

Or after 20:6-7?

These both seem to be more logical places to put this verse of Scripture rather than put it as an almost ‘afterthought’ outside the conclusion of 20:22-26 and prior to the next chapter which deals with priestly considerations. It almost hangs loosely in the legislation as a whole but it’s quite an important verse, nevertheless.

The first Scripture cited warned the Israelites that seeking out mediums and wizards would render themselves unclean before Him while the second noted that God Himself would set His face against anyone who turned to them and cut them off out of the land of Israel. This verse adds to these and notes that anyone who’s either of these was to be put to death by stoning.

Though God may take an active part in opposing and judging ‘hidden’ mediums and wizards (20:6-7) and reject those who go to them for counsel (19:31), it’s the responsibility of every Israelite to make sure that they’re removed from the camp of Israel and, subsequently, the land. The Scripture doesn’t actually say that this Law is ‘land restricted’ but it appears that, from the specification of stoning, a judicial enquiry has already taken place before judgment is pursued. This could only realistically take place within the land where Israel held sovereignty.

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