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(MT versing)
On Human Sacrifices and Immoralities Penalties for Breaking the Law Penalties for Violating the Rules of the Theocratic Community Penalties for Disobedience Penalties
a. religious offences
20:1-2a 20:1-5 20:1-2a 20:1-5 20:1-2a
20:2b-5 20:2b-5 20:2b-5
20:6-8 20:6-7 20:6-9 20:6-8 20:6
b. offences against the family
20:8-21 20:8-9a
20:9 20:9 20:9b
20:10-16 20:10-16 20:10-16 20:10
20:17-21 20:17-21 20:17-18 20:17
20:19-21 20:19
Concluding Exhortation
20:22-26 20:22-26 20:22-26 20:22-26 20:22-24a
20:27 20:27 20:27 20:27 20:27

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


  1. As Leviticus 18 and 19 deal with specific definitions of improper acts of covenant partners, chapter 20 deals with the consequences of sins.

  2. Leviticus 20:2-5 deals with Molech, who is first mentioned in Lev. 18:21. See SPECIAL TOPIC: MOLECH and SPECIAL TOPIC: FERTILITY WORSHIP OF THE ANE.

  3. This chapter uses an intensified grammatical structure (i.e., INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERFECT VERB of the same root).
    1. Lev. 20:2 ‒ "shall surely be put to death" (BDB 559, KB 562)
    2. Lev. 20:4 ‒ "should ever disregard" (lit. "should ever hide," BDB 761, KB 834)
    3. Lev. 20:9 ‒ same as #1
    4. Lev. 20:11 ‒ same as #1
    5. Lev. 20:12 ‒ same as #1
    6. Lev. 20:13 ‒ same as #1
    7. Lev. 20:15 ‒ same as #1
    8. Lev. 20:16 ‒ same as #1
    9. Lev. 20:27 ‒ same as #1

    There are terrible consequences to disobedience in time and eternity. YHWH wants a "holy" people to reflect His character to a pagan world (cf. Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:7,24,26)

  4. A good list of death penalty (i.e., by stoning) cases would be
    1. premeditated (non-legal) murder ‒ Exod. 21:12; Lev. 24:17; Num. 35:16-21
    2. kidnaping ‒ Exod. 21:16; Deut. 24:7
    3. idolatry ‒ Exod. 22:19; Lev. 20:1-5; Deut. 13:2-19; 17:2-7 (cursed in Deut. 27:15)
    4. blasphemy ‒ Lev. 24:14-16,23
    5. profane the sabbath ‒ Exod. 31:14-15
    6. sorcery ‒ Exod. 22:17; Lev. 20:27
    7. prostitution involving a priest's family ‒ Lev. 21:9
    8. dishonoring parents ‒ Exod. 21:15,17; Lev. 20:8; Deut. 21:18-21 (cursed in Deut. 27:16)
    9. adultery ‒ Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22
    10. incest ‒ Lev. 20:11,12,14,17 (see Leviticus 18)
    11. homosexuality ‒ Lev. 20:13
    12. bestiality ‒ Lev. 20:15-16 (cursed in Deut. 27:21)

    Stoning to death by the community was a way to demonstrate Israel as a holy people, a community of purity which must rid itself of wickedness and law breakers (i.e., Lev. 20:2,27; 24:14-23; Num. 15:35; Deut. 21:21).


1Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2"You shall also say to the sons of Israel:

20:2 This chapter's introductory phrase is different from previous chapters. The VERB "say," "speak" is not an IMPERATIVE.

2b"'Any man from the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in Israel who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. 3I will also set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given some of his offspring to Molech, so as to defile My sanctuary and to profane My holy name. 4If the people of the land, however, should ever disregard that man when he gives any of his offspring to Molech, so as not to put him to death, 5then I Myself will set My face against that man and against his family, and I will cut off from among their people both him and all those who play the harlot after him, by playing the harlot after Molech.'"

20:2b "Molech" See SPECIAL TOPIC: MOLECH.

▣ "put to death" This chapter gives the death penalty for various kinds of violations. See Contextual Insights, C.

▣ "the people of the land" This phrase has several different meanings in different periods of Israel's history (see Roland deVaux, Ancient Israel, pp. 70-72).

  1. landed gentry
  2. a legislative council (R. K. Harrison, Tyndale OT, p. 204)
  3. the common covenant person (c.f., Exod. 5:5)

It denotes "stoning" by the whole community (cf. Lev. 20:27; 24:14-23; Num. 15:35,36; Deut. 21:21). It was the designated way for the community of faith to remove the evil person (i.e., Deut. 13:1-18; 18:20).

20:3 "I will set My face" See note at Lev. 17:10. This is a repeated phrase (cf. Lev. 20:3,5,6).

▣ "I will cut him off from among his people" See note at Lev. 17:10.

▣ "so as to. . ." Notice how idolatry affects Israel.

  1. defiles YHWH's sanctuary (BDB 379, KB 375, Piel INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT; cf. Lev. 15:31; Num. 19:13,20)
  2. profanes YHWH's name (BDB 320, KB 319, Piel INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT; cf. Lev. 18:21)
NASB  "should ever disregard"
NKJV  "should in any way hide their eyes"
NRSV  "should even close their eyes"
TEV, Peshitta  "ignores"
NJB  "choose to close their eyes"
JPSOA, NET  "shut their eyes"
REB  "connive at it"
LXX  "should by an oversight overlook with their eyes"

This VERB (BDB 761, KB 834) is linked to the INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE of the same root, which intensifies the thought. The "hiding" can be of the

  1. eyes ‒ 1 Sam. 12:3; Ps. 10:1; Pro. 28:27; Isa. 1:15; Ezek. 22:26
  2. ears ‒ Lam. 3:56
  3. fact ‒ 2 Kgs. 4:27
  4. council ‒Job 42:3

Here, it denotes someone who knows a fellow Israeli has given his child (lit. "seed") to Molech and does not tell the proper authorities will be put to death. See SPECIAL TOPIC: CONSEQUENCES OF IDOLATRY.

20:5 "set My face against that man" See note at Lev. 17:10.

Notice that several people are to be put to death (probably by the stoning of the whole community, Lev. 20:2).

  1. the one who sees the idolatry and does not tell
  2. the family (wife, children, grandchildren) of the one who does not tell
  3. the ones involved in the idolatry
  4. although not specifically mentioned, the family of the one giving his children to Molech because they would have known.

I have two comments about this.

  1. This is an example of Hebrew corporality. One's actions affect the whole (Exod. 20:5; Joshua 7).
  2. This must also be seen in light of Ezekiel 18, where only the sinner is affected.
  3. This is typical biblical paradox. See SPECIAL TOPIC: PARADOX IN SCRIPTURE.

▣ "playing the harlot after Molech" This refers to "spiritual adultery" by the fact that YHWH was Israel's true husband (see SPECIAL TOPIC: FATHER) and, therefore, when Israel went after other gods it was a symbol of her going "awhoring after other gods" (cf. Exod. 34:15-16; Lev. 17:7; Deut. 31:16; Jdgs. 2:17; 8:27,33; Jer. 3:1; Ezek. 20:30; Hos. 2:7).

6"'As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people. 7You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. 8You shall keep My statutes and practice them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.'".

20:6 "medium and spiritists" See Lev. 19:26,31; 20:27; Deut. 18:10-12. See full notes online in Deuteronomy 19.

20:7 "consecrate" This is the Hebrew term kadosh (BDB 872, KB 1073, Hithpael PERFECT with waw). It is the VERB form of "holy" (see SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY). This is demanded several times in Leviticus (cf. Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:7,26).

This concept is parallel to (1) "sanctifies" (BDB 872, KB 1073, Piel PARTICIPLE) in Lev. 20:8 (2) "separated" (BDB 95, KB 110) in Lev. 20:24,25, literally, "to divide.

Israel made a distinction between what was clean and unclean (Lev. 20:25; Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14). Israel was to be different from her surrounding pagan nations. She was to reflect YHWH's holiness!

20:8 "keep" Notice the number of times in Leviticus this is stated (cf. Lev. 8:35; 18:4,5,26,30; 19:3,19, 30, 37; 20:8,22; 22:9,31; 25:18; 26:2,3; and many more times in Deuteronomy. See SPECIAL TOPIC: KEEP and SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT.


▣ "the Lord" This is covenant language. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, D.

▣ "sanctifies" Notice the parallel concepts of

  1. be holy, Lev. 20:7
  2. sanctify, Lev. 20:8
  3. separate, Lev. 20:24-25

YHWH sanctified them but Israel must "practice" (BDB 793, KB 889, Qal PERFECT with waw) them!


9"'If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his bloodguiltiness is upon him.'"

20:9 "curses his father or his mother" This is the opposite of "honor" (cf. Exod. 20:12 and would encompass Exod. 21:15). See note at Lev. 19:3. This shows the significance of family stability as it relates to long term societal stability. Note the parallel in Deut. 21:18-21.

10"'If there is a man who commits adultery with another man's wife, one who commits adultery with his friend's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. 11If there is a man who lies with his father's wife, he has uncovered his father's nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death, their bloodguiltiness is upon them. 12If there is a man who lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed incest, their bloodguiltiness is upon them. 13If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them. 14If there is a man who marries a woman and her mother, it is immorality; both he and they shall be burned with fire, so that there will be no immorality in your midst. 15If there is a man who lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death; you shall also kill the animal. 16If there is a woman who approaches any animal to mate with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.'"

20:10-21 This deals with sexual abuses mentioned in chapter 18. See full note there.

  1. Lev. 20:10 ‒ Lev. 18:20
  2. Lev. 20:11 ‒ Lev. 18:7,8
  3. Lev. 20:12 ‒ Lev. 18:15
  4. Lev. 20:13 ‒ Lev. 18:22
  5. Lev. 20:14 ‒ Deut. 27:23
  6. Lev. 20:15 ‒ Lev. 18:23
  7. Lev. 20:16 ‒ Lev. 18:23
  8. Lev. 20:17 ‒ Lev. 18:9
  9. Lev. 20:18 ‒ Lev. 18:19
  10. Lev. 20:19 ‒ Lev. 18:12,13
  11. Lev. 20:20 ‒ Lev. 18:14
  12. Lev. 20:21 ‒ Lev. 18:16

Leviticus 18 defines the boundaries and chapter 19 the consequences for disobedience.

20:10 The word "adultery" (BDB 610, KB 158) is used four times.

  2. Same as 1.
  3. adulterer
  4. adulteress

All require the death penalty.

This verse seems to have a redundant phrase which may be the result of an early copyist's error. See SPECIAL TOPIC: TEXTUAL CRITICISM.

20:11 See note at Lev. 18:7,8 and at Contextual Insights, C.

20:12 See note at Lev. 18:15 and at Contextual Insights, C.

NASB, TEV, JPSOA  "incest"
NKJV, NRSV  "perversion"
NJB, REB  "violated nature"
LXX  "behaved impiously"
Peshitta  "committed a sin"

This term (BDB 117) basically means "confusion" in the sense of the NJB, REB (cf. Lev. 18:23; 20:12).

20:13 See note at Lev. 18:22 and at Contextual Insights, C.

▣ "a detestable act" This (BDB 1072) is used earlier in Lev. 7:18; 11:10; 18:22,26,27,29. See notes there. See SPECIAL TOPIC: ABOMINATION (OT) and SPECIAL TOPIC: HOMOSEXUALITY.

For a brief discussion of the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality, see Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 543-545.

20:14 "they shall be burned with fire" Fire was one way to cleanse. See SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE.

There are several verses that require the burning of law breakers (cf. Gen. 38:24; Lev. 20:14; 21:9). Also, Saul's and his sons' bodies were burned in 1 Sam. 31:12-13. See SPECIAL TOPIC: CREMATION.

20:15 See note at Lev. 18:23 and at Contextual Insights, C.

20:16 See note at Lev. 18:23 and at Contextual Insights, C.

17"'If there is a man who takes his sister, his father's daughter or his mother's daughter, so that he sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace; and they shall be cut off in the sight of the sons of their people. He has uncovered his sister's nakedness; he bears his guilt. 18If there is a man who lies with a menstruous woman and uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare her flow, and she has exposed the flow of her blood; thus both of them shall be cut off from among their people. 19You shall also not uncover the nakedness of your mother's sister or of your father's sister, for such a one has made naked his blood relative; they will bear their guilt. 20If there is a man who lies with his uncle's wife he has uncovered his uncle's nakedness; they will bear their sin. They will die childless. 21If there is a man who takes his brother's wife, it is abhorrent; he has uncovered his brother's nakedness. They will be childless.'"

20:20,21 "They will be childless" For a Jewish family to be childless even affected their afterlife (NIDOTTE, vol. 3, pp. 534-535). In this chapter this is the result of "cut off" (i.e., the family line ceases; see note at Lev. 7:20).

22"'You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out. 23Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them. 24Hence I have said to you, "You are to possess their land, and I Myself will give it to you to possess it, a land flowing with milk and honey." I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25You are therefore to make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; and you shall not make yourselves detestable by animal or by bird or by anything that creeps on the ground, which I have separated for you as unclean. 26Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.'"


▣ "My statutes and all My ordinances" See SPECIAL TOPIC: TERMS FOR GOD'S REVELATION.

▣ "the land. . .will not spew you out" As Israel's sin made the Tabernacle ceremonially unclean, so Israel's sin made the land unclean. The land is personified as spewing out (cf. Lev. 18:28) the Hebrews as it had the Canaanites (cf. Lev. 20:23 and Gen. 15:16).

20:23 "I have abhorred them" This VERB (BDB 880, KB 1089, Qal IMPERFECT) means "to feel disgust." In the Pentateuch it is used in several senses.

  1. Gen. 27:46 ‒ Rebekah was distraught over her Canaanite daughter-in-law
  2. Exod. 1:12; Num. 22:3 ‒ the Egyptians feared the Israelites because of their numbers
  3. Num. 21:5 ‒ the Israelites were sick and tired of the manna they had to eat every day
  4. here, the VERB is theologically parallel to
    1. "abhor" (BDB 1055, KB 1646, cf. Lev. 20:25)
    2. "loath" (BDB 1072, KB 1702); cf. Gen. 43:32; 46:34; Exod. 8:26; Ps. 95:10; see SPECIAL TOPIC: ABOMINATION (OT)

20:24 "a land flowing with milk and honey" This phrase describes the agricultural abundance of Canaan. It is mentioned several times.

  1. YHWH's initial call to Moses, Exod. 3:8,17
  2. consecration of the firstborn after the 10th plague on Egypt, Exod. 13:5
  3. YHWH's message about the conquest by the power of YHWH's special angel, Exod. 33:3
  4. the spies sent into Canaan, Num. 13:27; 14:8
  5. remember all the victories and blessings were a gift from YHWH, Deut. 8:7-10; 31:20
  6. an allusion to Gen. 15:12-22 ‒ Exod. 11:9
  7. consecration and giving of first fruits after the conquest, Deut. 26:9
  8. write the law on the stones from Jordan, Deut. 31:20
  9. just after crossing Jordan, Josh. 5:6

▣ "separated" The terms "holy," "set apart," and "separated" have a similar root idea—that which is given to God for His special use. The people of God are holy because they have been set apart as a kingdom of priests (cf. Lev. 20:26; Exod. 19:5-6; 33:16). Israel was meant to bring the whole world to God. God has revealed Himself through Israel. One of the real problems with Israel's lack of faith is that she affects the whole world. See SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH'S ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN.

20:25 "You are therefore to make a distinction" This is the essence of the concept of "holiness" in Leviticus. YHWH is "separate"; they, too, should be different from their pagan neighbors in every area of life. Leviticus 20:25, like Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14, deals with food.

The VERB translated "make distinction" (BDB 95, KB 110, Hiphil PERFECT with waw is exactly the same for as the last VERB of Lev. 20:24, "I have separated." The basic meaning of the VERB is "to divide."

  1. separate Israel from the other nations, Lev. 20:24
  2. separate Israel's food, clean from unclean, Lev. 20:25
  3. in Exod. 26:33 it is used of the veil that separates the "Holy of Holies" from the "Holy Place" of the inner shrine of the Tabernacle
  4. in Num. 16:9 it is used of the priests being separated to serve YHWH (i.e., they took the place of the firstborn, cf. Exodus 13)

20:6 This is the key theological concept of Leviticus (cf. Lev. 11:14; 19:2; 20:24). Israel was uniquely YHWH's people by covenant, not just creation.

27"'Now a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.'" .

20:27 In some way this verse seems to intrude on the context but it does show another area of Israel's distinctiveness (cf. Lev. 19; 26-28,31; 20:6,27; Deuteronomy 18).

This chapter clearly revealed Israel's tendency toward idolatry!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. How is this chapter related to chapter 18?
  2. Who is Molech?
  3. In this context what does the phrase "play the harlot" mean?
  4. Define
    1. medium, Lev. 20:6,27
    2. spiritist, Lev. 20:6,27
  5. How is "separated" in Lev. 20:24 related to "be holy" in Lev. 20:26?

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