How to punish selected sins
Execute people who sacrifice children1The LORD said to Moses:
2I want you to tell this to the people of Israel:
Execute any Israelites or any immigrants living in Israel who sacrifice a child to Molech. Stone them to death.
3If any of my people are despicable enough to sacrifice their child to Molech, I will turn my back on them because you will have disgraced my holy name and dishonored my sacred worship center. 4And if you sacrifice a child to Molech and the people of Israel ignore it, and fail to execute you,
5I will personally take care of the matter. I will turn my back on you and your family. You will no longer be an Israelite. I will kick you out of the family; you’ll no longer be an Israelite. I'll do the same for anyone else who’s unfaithful enough to me to sacrifice a child to Molech.
Don’t try to consult the dead6If you’re unfaithful to me by using the services of mediums or anyone else who tries to communicate with spirits of the dead, I'll turn my back on you. You’ll no longer be an Israelite.
7Devote yourself to me so you’ll be holy, because I am holy. 8Keep my laws and enforce them. I am the LORD. You are holy because I have made you holy.
9If you try to hurt your father or mother by putting a curse on them, that's a capital offense. The people of Israel need to execute you. You’ll have no one to blame but yourself.
Punishment for sex sins10If you have sex with another man's wife, whether the man is your friend or anyone else, you and the woman have committed a capital offence. You are both to be executed.
11If you have sex with your father's wife, you have disgraced your father. You and the woman have committed a capital offence. You have to pay for it with your lives. 12If you have sex with your daughter-in-law, both of you have to die. You have committed incest, and you have no one to blame but yourselves.
13If a man has sex with another man, in the way men typically have sex with a woman, both men have done something despicable. This is a capital offense, and both men have to be executed. They have no one to blame but themselves. 14It would be disgraceful for a man to marry a woman and her mother, and then have sex with both women. If you did that, you and your wives should all be burned to death as a lesson to others not to do such a despicable thing.
15If you have sex with an animal, you and the animal both have to die. 16If a woman even merely tries to have sex with an animal, kill both of them. They deserve to die.
17If you have sex with your sister or half-sister, whether she is the daughter of your father or the daughter of your mother, you have done something disgraceful. Neither of you are Israelites. You are guilty of violating your sister.
18If you have sex with a woman in her menstrual period, you have come into contact with the flow of her blood. Neither one of you are Israelites any longer. 19And don’t have sex with your aunt. It doesn’t matter if she is your mother's sister or your father’s sister. Don’t have sex with a blood relative. If you do, you’ll be held accountable and you’ll be punished.
20Don't have sex with your uncle's wife. If you do, you will both be punished for your sin. You’ll die without having any more children. 21It's despicable for a man to have sex with his brother’s wife. If you do that, you disgrace your own brother. You and the woman will no longer have any children.
You are holy people, so act like it22These are my laws. Obey them and enforce them. Do this so the land I am taking you to won't puke you back out. 23I'm warning you not to follow the customs of the people in the land I am taking you to. I am driving those people out of the land because I find their customs disgusting. 24As I told you before, I’m going to give you a fertile land where milk and honey flow like rivers. I am the LORD your God, and I have picked you out from among all the people in this world.
25You are a distinct people, so live like it. Distinguish yourself by distinguishing between ritually clean animals and unclean animals, clean birds and unclean birds. Don't make yourself a commoner by eating any animal or bird or critter that scurries on the ground. I have marked the unclean animals as unfit for my distinguished people.
26Devote yourself to me so you’ll be holy, because I am holy. I have singled you out to become my holy people. 27If any man or woman among you acts as a medium who tries to consult the dead, let them consult the dead in person. Stone them to death. They’ll have no one to blame but themselves.
Scholars debate who or what Molech was and whether children were literally sacrificed or perhaps figuratively presented to Molech and dedicated to him. Many scholars say Molech was a god, because of the way Bible writers describe people prostituting themselves to Molech (Leviticus 20:5). Most scholars seem to agree that some people of Israel “ built places to worship Baal so they could burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices to Molech” (Jeremiah 32:35 New Century Version).
More literally, the person “should be removed from the community” or “cut off.” This is a consequence repeated throughout these early books of the Bible. It’s unclear how and by whom the offenders were removed. Perhaps they could no longer worship at the tent worship center, or they lost their rights as citizens of this emerging nation that Moses seemed to be organizing. Maybe they were executed. Scholars seem uncertain about what happened.
“Holy” means one thing when talking about people and another thing when talking about God. “The Holy One” is a title of God. Scholars say that when the Bible says God is holy, it’s saying there is nothing like him; he’s unique, “wholly other” scholars say, and he’s perfectly loving and just and pure. When the word “holy” describes people or sacred objects in the tent worship center, for example, it’s talking about someone or something devoted to God and reserved for him. Worship utensils such as lampstands were considered holy because they were reserved for sacred use, devoted to God. People, too, were considered holy when they devoted themselves to God and to his goodness. They wear goodness like a skin and they begin to resemble the Bible’s description of their Father: “God is love….We know God loves us. We believe it with all our heart because God is love. Everyone who embraces a life of love embraces God, and God embraces them. Love unites them” (1 John 4:8, 16).
The Hebrew word is qālal. It’s used in many different ways. Various meanings include: insult, humiliate, disgrace, shame, curse, despise, trivialize, treat with contempt, cause to be shaken. But the immediate context, as seen in verse 6, deals with mediums and spiritualists—practices forbidden (Leviticus 19:30). That’s in the territory of sorcery, casting spells, and putting a hex on people like Mom and Dad.
The original Hebrew term is tôʽēbâ. It has many meanings. None of them good: detestable, repulsive, loathsome, abomination. Yet for many people of faith today, the very idea of shaming homosexuals is as repulsive as reading Paul telling runaway slaves to go back to their masters. Among the arguments: the ancients had no idea that homosexuality was not a matter of choice, but was the way God created some individuals. Neither did Apostle Paul, who called homosexuality “unnatural” and “shameful” (Romans 1:26-27). Christians are so divided over how to understand what the Bible says about homosexuality that church denominations have split over this very topic. Some say they believe Paul and Moses were speaking for God. Other Christians say they doubt that God would want to be blamed for what we’re reading about this in our Bibles today, and that the ancient writers were expressing their culture’s opinion rather than revealing something God told them. Some Christians argue that Jesus never even addressed the topic. He told us to love one another. He didn’t tell us who to fall in love with. Cultures have done that for us throughout the centuries: Don’t marry a white with a black. Don’t marry an upper crust with a crumb. Don’t marry a Baptist to anyone but a Baptist.
Violating his sister was the opposite of what a brother is supposed to do in that patriarchal culture. He was supposed to protect her.
This seems to leave the punishment to God and takes it out of the hands of the community.
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
God demands that if any Israelites, or any immigrants living among the Israelites, offer child sacrifices to Molech, they should be stoned to death because they “will have disgraced my holy name and dishonored my sacred worship center.” If the people of Israel fail to do the stoning, God adds, “I will personally take care of the matter.” Just how do you think God would do that?
God tells his people: “If you’re unfaithful to me by using the services of mediums or anyone else who tries to communicate with spirits of the dead, I’ll turn my back on you.” Why make so much fuss over a séance, which is basically no more than a parlor game?
Leviticus holds that If a man has sex with another man’s wife, that constitutes adultery. Both the man and the woman are to be executed. Was this harsh penalty for adultery actually carried out in Bible times? Scholars disagree. Some say imposing the death penalty was just an exaggerated way of saying it was a bad sin. Does that make sense to you?
The last section of chapter 20 focuses on the future. How should the people act in the Promised Land toward which God is leading them? Once again, they are instructed to be holy as God is holy. When you look at what God says about that in the chapter, what exactly does it look like he wants them to do? What would holiness look like in the Promised Land? And what should it look like today?