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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 20

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



Since legislation would be a nullity without the sanction of adequate penalties, the divine Lawgiver proceeds to annex various punishments for the vices and crimes which have been already specified. We are to guard ourselves against the error of supposing that these penalties are a sufficient satisfaction for the violation of the moral law, for they do not punish sin as sin, but as crime tending to subvert and destroy human society. Under the theocracy a wicked act has a twofold aspect; first, that which is concerned with God’s earthly and temporal government; and, secondly, that which is cognized by the absolute and eternal law. The penalties of this chapter refer to the first aspect.

Verse 2

2. Molech See Leviticus 18:21.

Or of the strangers So cruel were the rites accompanying the worship of this idol that the pagans resident among the Israelites were forbidden to practise it, through mercy to the innocent victims and to keep the Hebrews from becoming insensible through familiarity with this horrid practice.

Shall stone him Stoning was the ordinary method of capital punishment. It was practised in Egypt, Exodus 8:26, and was in vogue among the Jews in the time of Christ.

Acts 7:58. The criminal was placed on a rock or platform about twelve feet high, stripped naked, except the loins. The witnesses laid aside their outer garments, then pushed the criminal off the scaffold backwards, and then dashed a great stone upon his breast, if he was not killed by the fall, and all the people threw stones till he died.

Verse 3

3. I will set my face Should Israel connive at this horrible abomination, and through fear or motives of base and selfish policy refuse to execute my law, “I will be my own executioner,” says Jehovah.

Defile my sanctuary It was not necessary to set up the service of Molech in the tabernacle in order to defile the abode of Jehovah, but any flagrant sin committed or permitted by Israel polluted the sanctuary.

Verses 4-5

4, 5. Hide their eyes The Lawgiver foresees and provides for an amazing moral degeneracy and hardness of heart, when the people’s conscience will be so stupified that they will let this great crime go unpunished.

Against his family This does not necessarily imply the guilt of the family, for ancient law viewed the family as a part of the man’s personality, and inflicted suffering upon them all as if guilty. See Exodus 20:5; and Joshua 7:24, notes.

Whoredom This term is here used figuratively for idolatry. See chap. Leviticus 17:7, note.

Verse 6

6. Familiar spirits See Leviticus 19:31, note. The tendency to resort to necromancy among the Hebrews demonstrates their belief in the existence and activity of disembodied spirits, so that Sadducism is refuted in the Pentateuch. There is nothing in either of these chapters which can be quoted in proof of the reality of the sorcerer’s communications with the spirits of the dead. On the statute books of England there are now laws against an imaginary crime, the pretence of power to bewitch, claimed by designing negroes in Jamaica for the purpose of controlling, terrifying, and blackmailing their superstitious countrymen.

Wizards See Leviticus 19:31, note.

Verse 7

7. Sanctify yourselves An important part of sanctification, which lies within the gracious ability of men, is to refrain from acts of impurity. See

1 Thessalonians 4:3. But until the soul is cleansed by the Sanctifier this abstinence will cost a struggle. This is the difference between a justified soul and one entirely sanctified. “The impress of consecration to a holy God is to be stamped on the life of the Israelites in ordinances extending to all important relations and conditions; in every important affair of life the Israelite has to accomplish something demanded by God.” Oehler.

Verse 8

8. I am the Lord which sanctify you Set you apart from all uncleanness and idolatry, and impart to you grace to continue in this state of separation. The sanctification of the nature by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost may have been a rare experience under the old covenant. It is promised to all believers under the spiritual dispensation.

Verse 9

9. Curseth his father The Hebrew includes contemptuous or disrespectful words, as well as cursing. But it is not probable that petulant words in a momentary passion were sufficient to constitute a capital crime, but the defiant and repeated vilification of the parents and the rejection of their authority.

His blood… upon him This law phrase, recurring so often in the Scriptures, is first found here. It signifies that capital punishment worthily falls upon him who wilfully violates God’s law.

Breach of the reverence due to parents is punished in just the same way as offences against the reverence due to God.

Verse 10

10. The adulterer and the adulteress In the Mosaic law adultery is committed only through the unchastity of a wife. A husband commits this crime only with the free wife of another. See Exodus 20:14, note.

Put to death If the adulteress was another’s slave, the penalty was milder, probably corporeal punishment. The allowance of polygamy implies that the wife has no such exclusive right to the husband as the husband has to the wife. In many countries the adulteress has suffered capital punishment while the adulterer has escaped with a less penalty. Since this crime destroys the family, the corner-stone of society, it deserves the severest penalty. If both parties are married persons, the crime is double adultery; if but one is under marriage vows, it is single. See Exodus 20:14, note.

Verse 12

12. Confusion The word tebhel occurs in only one other passage, Leviticus 18:23, note.

Verse 13

13. An abomination Leviticus 18:22, note.

Verse 14

14. Burnt with fire The heinousness of the incest specified in this verse is emphasized by burning the dead bodies of the culprits after they had been stoned. Cremation, so common among the Greeks and Romans, was exceedingly abhorrent to the Hebrews. Burning alive is not a penalty of the Mosaic law. See Joshua 7:15, note. Hence little confidence is to be put in the Targum of Palestine, which says, “Let them be burned with fire, with melted lead in their mouths.”

Verse 15

15. Lie with a beast See Leviticus 18:23.

Slay the beast The innocent instrument of the abominable act of a moral agent is put to death as a mark of Jehovah’s abhorrence.

Verse 17

17. Sister See Leviticus 18:9; Leviticus 18:11, notes.

Wicked thing Properly a disgrace.

Verse 18

18. With a woman having her sickness Since the Hebrew has but one term for woman and wife, this precept, with its dreadful penalty of extermination, must apply to conjugal intercourse during menstruation. This offence against purity is accounted among the crying sins of Israel, ranking with idol-worship, adultery, and violation of a father’s wife.

Ezekiel 18:6; Ezekiel 22:10.

Both… shall be cut off They shall both be put to death, though in this case the man is chiefly guilty. Any less stringent safeguard of the wife’s health might have been ineffectual. It is difficult for modern moralists to adjust their ethical notions to all the requirements of the ceremonial law.

Verse 19

19. They shall bear their iniquity Oehler thinks that this expression does not involve the death penalty. See Leviticus 10:17; Numbers 9:13, notes.

Verse 20

20. Severed you… that ye should be mine There can be no appropriation without separation. Consecration to Christ implies a death unto sin. Oehler wisely remarks that kadosh, the Hebrew for the word holy, “where it is a designation of a divine attribute, there evidently lies in it primarily a negative element, by which it designates a state of apartness, God raising himself above all others.” The connexion of thought in this verse may be thus expressed: “I am holy, and so I have separated you from among the nations to be mine.” Nothing created is in itself holy, though it is innocent. Holiness in a creature always involves an act of self-determination, and an act of the divine will in the completion of a perfection of life both inwardly and outwardly. “It is certain that in the biblical conception of society a very broad distinction is made between the people of God and all other people. This again is not arbitrary; it comes out of the very nature of the separating God himself. It is only because God is different from all other gods that his people are different from all other people. Monasticism is not taught by this text. Men are to move up and down in the world transacting all its usual business, and yet so to do the work of life as to exert a benign influence, and fill other men with encouragement to move in an upward direction.” Joseph Parker.

Verse 22

22. Spew you not out See Leviticus 18:25; Leviticus 18:28, notes.

Verse 23

23. Therefore I abhorred them The word kootz signifies to be weary of, to loathe, to be distressed, to abhor; and it heightens the hatefulness of the sins of the Canaanites. How intensely repugnant to the divine mind must those actions be which awaken the emotion of abhorrence! We have no sympathy with the semi-deistic notion that God is a bare and cold intelligence, utterly devoid of sensibilities. To limit him to mere knowledge and volition is to represent him as inferior to man. If man is made in the image of God it must be that the divine prototype is possessed of the capacity of emotion.

Verse 24

24. Milk and honey Both Grecian and Roman poets depict the highest pleasantness and fertility by an abundance of milk and honey. See Homer’s Iliad, 9: 141; Ovid, Met., i, iii; See Joshua 5:6, note.

Separated you from other people This separation consisted in circumcision, a knowledge of the true God, a prohibition of idolatry, a unique sacrificial code, and the requirement to obey the moral and the levitical law, which rendered it impossible to mingle socially with the Gentiles without contracting pollution. This separation was subsequently made easier by the secluded position of the Holy Land, which was enclosed on the south and southwest by great wildernesses, on the north by the high mountains of Lebanon, and on the west by a seacoast having few harbours.

Verse 25

25. Clean beasts This law may be considered both as a sanitary regulation and also a barrier between Israel and all idolatrous nations. See Leviticus 11:2-8, notes.

Your souls The word “souls” is here used for “selves.” See Isaiah 46:2.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Leviticus 20". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/leviticus-20.html. 1874-1909.
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