SPECIAL TOPIC: THE DEATH PENALTY IN ISRAEL

Ancient Israel was to reflect the character of YHWH to the world (cf. Gen. 12:3; 22:18; Exod. 19:5-6). When intentional covenant rebellion distorted this missionary purpose, serious consequences manifested (i.e., death penalty).

The Pentateuch lists several categories:

1. sins against YHWH

a. Canaanite worship practices – Exod. 22:18; Lev. 20:2-3,27; Deut. 18:10-11

b. idolatry (heavenly hosts) – Exod. 22:20; Deut. 17:2-7

c. blasphemy – Exod. 22:28; Lev. 24:15-16

d. false prophecy – Deut. 13:1-11; 18:20-22

e. Sabbath violations – Exod. 31:14-15; 35:2

2. sexual sins

a. incest – Lev. 20:11-21

b. fornication – Lev. 19:29; 21:9; Deut. 22:13-21; 23:17-18

c. adultery – Exod. 20:14; Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:23-24

d. sodomy – Lev. 18:22; 20:13

e. bestiality – Exod. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16

3. violation of covenant regulations against fellow Israelites

a. murder – Exod. 20:13; 21:12-14; Lev. 24:17; Num. 35:16-21; Deut. 5:17

b. kidnaping (to sell) – Exod. 21:16; Deut. 24:7 and possibly Exod. 20:15; Deut. 5:19

c. rebellion against parents – Deut. 21:18-21

d. false witness

e. taking holy war spoils – Joshua 7

The methods of execution also varied.

1. stoning – most common

2. burning – Gen. 38:24; Lev. 20:14; 21:9

3. hanging/impaling – Deut. 21:22-23

4. sword – Deut. 13:15 

Exceptions for special cases.

1. cities of refuge and subsequent trial – Joshua 20

2. stringent investigations of accusations – Deut. 13:15; 17:4; 19:18

3. need for two witnesses – Num. 35:36; Deut. 17:6; 19:15

The death penalty was to be

1. a way to cleanse the land – Deut. 13:5; 17:12; 19:13,19; 21:9,21; 22:21,22,24; 24:7

2. a deterrent to others – Deut. 17:13; 19:20; 21:21

3. a way of stopping clan violence (i.e., no personal revenge, except regulations set for blood-avenger)

See Ancient Israel, vol. 1, pp. 147-163. 

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