Leviticus 20: Various Punishments
In the last chapter, we were given a grab-bag of miscellaneous laws, but many of the laws didn’t have punishments listed. In this chapter, some of those punishments are given. The two chapters are not related to each other point-by-point—you won’t find a match for each law in the previous chapter listed as a punishment in this chapter. However, you will recognize many of these punishments as resulting from laws given in the last chapter.
For this chapter, no preamble is given. God simply starts listing out punishments. (Remember, of course, that the Bible was not written with chapters and verses. So, really, this is just a continuation on from what was written in the last “chapter.”)
The laws listed here aren’t all in order that they’re listed in the chapter.
- Anyone—Israelite or alien—who gave (or sacrificed) their children to Molech was to be put to death, by stoning.
- If the people turned a blind eye to the sin, God promised that He would set His face against the man and his family, and cut him and anyone who followed him off from the people.
- If anyone turned to a medium or spiritist, God would set His face against that person.
- An actual medium or spiritist, however, was to be put to death, by stoning.
I see God telling the Israelites that He would “set His face against them” on a regular basis in the Old Testament. Although it’s a nice, poetic turn of phrase, I don’t know what it literally means. If someone turned to a spiritist, and God set His face against that person, would the person die? Would the person simply stop being prosperous? I’m not sure what would happen.
- If anyone cursed his father or mother, he was to be put to death.
I’m not sure if this could have been grouped with the laws above; God often includes respect for one’s parents within rules about worshipping Him.
- For various sexual sins, when a man had sex with someone he wasn’t supposed to have sex with, both the man and the woman were to be put to death. This applied if a man slept with:
- another man’s wife
- his father’s wife
- his daughter-in-law
- Similarly, if two men had sex, they were both to be put to death
- If a man married both a woman and her daughter, all three were to be put to death.
- In this case, a specific type of death was prescribed: burning in a fire
- If anyone had sex with an animal, they were to be put to death, and so was the animal
- If a man married his sister—including a half-sister—they were to be “cut off before the eyes of their people” (verse 17).
- If a man had sex with a woman during her period, they were to be cut off from their people. A reason is given in verse 18: “…he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it.”
- If a man had sex with a sister—or half-sister—outside of marriage, they would still be “held responsible” (verse 19), but no specific punishment is listed.
- If a man slept with his uncle’s wife, there is no punishment listed, but there is a consequence listed, as to what would happen to them: they would die childless.
- Similarly, if a man married with his brother’s wife, they also would be childless.
When a man married his sister, or half-sister, they were to be “cut off before the eyes of their people.” I’m not sure if this is the same as being “cut off from their people,” as is the case when a man had sex with a woman during her period. It’s worded differently, but I’m not sure what the difference is between the two.
For the consequences where God said that people would be childless, the implication is that He would punish them, instead of having a punishment outlined in the law, for the people to carry out.
There is another summing up verse near the end of this chapter:
Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations.
You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those which I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.
And then, for some reason, there is one more punishment squeezed in at the end of the chapter. (It’s the one mentioning that mediums and spiritists were to be put to death, which I listed earlier.)
I didn’t mention it every time, but some of the punishments listed in this chapter have something said along the lines of “the person broke the rule, and is deserving of the punishment.” e.g.
If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head. (verse 9, emphasis added)
I wonder if God put those qualifiers in there for our benefit, lest we forget that sin deserves punishment.