Leviticus: Capital Crimes and Consequences: Getting Radical in Response to Sin

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on June 29, 2005

Leviticus 20:1-27

Wednesday Evening

June 29, 2005

Leviticus 20:1-27

“Capital Crimes and Consequences: Getting Radical in
Response to Sin”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
Leviticus, chapter 20, as we continue our study through this code of holiness,
the holiness code of the second half of the Book of Leviticus. And having come
to the twentieth chapter, we have come to a passage again in which the penalties
for specific sins are enumerated, indicating just how radically God was willing
to deal with sin in the people of Israel.

Let me point you back to chapter 19, and then let me
outline chapter 20 for you briefly, and perhaps that will help you as we read
what’s a fairly long chapter together. Let me point you back to chapter 19 and
just remind you that in the very second verse of Leviticus 19 we saw Moses give
to the people of God a God-motivation for holiness.

We have said that the Bible gives us various reasons
why we ought to pursue holiness. Sometimes the Bible stresses that God has
shown His grace to us, and therefore, in gratitude to God for His grace, we
ought to pursue holiness. We ought to want to live like He tells us to live.

In one of the prayers tonight, someone made
reference to that beautiful testimony that George Bush gave before he was
elected President of the United States, when somebody asked him who his favorite
philosopher was, and he said, “Well, my favorite philosopher is the Lord Jesus
Christ, because He saved me and He changed my life.” He was saying that he
followed Christ in gratitude for Christ’s changing his life.

And the Bible gives those kinds of motivations to
the people of God from time to time.

For instance, we’ve seen already as we’ve studied Genesis
and Exodus and parts of Leviticus together that God will say, “Because I am the
Lord who saved you, follow Me.” Or, “Because I am the Lord who brought you out
of Egypt, follow Me.” And so He will give a redemptive motivation for
obedience: I saved you, so follow Me because I saved you; and we follow Him in
response to that redemptive work because we’re grateful for that redemption.
And that’s one of the kinds of motivation to obedience in the Christian life
which is given in the Scriptures.

But another motivation that we’ve run into in
Leviticus 19 and elsewhere is this God-motivation. And how does He put it in
Leviticus 19:2? “You shall be holy…” why? “…because I am holy.” In other
words, we are to be holy because God is holy, and we are His image; and we are
to reflect to the world what God is like, and so our very pursuit of holiness is
part of a confirming witness to the world that our God is entirely different
from anything that they have known and experienced. He is a holy God. We’re
the image, the reflection, the representation of His holiness to the world, and
there’s a God-motivation to holiness given there in Leviticus 19:2. Now, the
reason I want to draw your attention to that is because you’re going to see that
occur again here in Leviticus 20. This God-motivation for holiness is going to
be put right up before our eyes and the people of God’s eyes again. Now let’s
outline the chapter before we read it.

I. Death penalty require for false worship.

First of all, if you look at Leviticus
20:1-6, you will see first the requirement of the death penalty for the worship
of Molech and for any kind of spiritism or necromancy, or resorting to a medium,
or demonic activity in worship and conjuring up of spirits.

Now, what’s going on in that section?

Well, in part God is saying to the children of
Israel, ‘I do not want you to follow the religious practices of either Egypt or
Canaan. I understand that their religions involve sacrificing children to Molech;
I understand that their religions involve going to spiritists and oracles and
mediums and consulting with familiar spirits; that is not what your religion is
going to be like. You are not going to take your cue from the culture around
you. You’re not going to take your cue from Canaan and from Egypt. You’re
going to take your cue from Me.’ So the very first thing that He’s saying in
this passage is, ‘You’re going to worship God the way God tells you to worship
God, not the way that Egypt or the Canaanites try and worship God, whether it be
through sacrificing children, or whether it be through resorting too familiar
spirits and various other forms of spiritism.’ So here’s the first section:
verses 1-6.

And the death penalty is assigned to this.
Obviously the red light is flashing! God is saying, ‘I’m very, very serious
about this.’ I’m going to draw your attention to this in a minute, but remember
we’ve already seen in the Book of Leviticus a variety of ritual things that
could be done to forgive certain sins. If you committed “X” sin, you went to the
priest with certain sacrifices and your sins were forgiven. If your heart came
in repentant, and you made those sacrifices, you were forgiven those sins.

Suddenly, now, no ritual sacrifices are prescribed
for Molech worship or for going after these familiar spirits. The death penalty
is ascribed. What’s God doing? There’s a red light flashing on it. He’s
saying, ‘I’m deadly serious about this. This is a serious breach of your
fidelity to Me, and I’m going to draw your attention to it by telling you, OK,
the penalty for this is the death penalty. You don’t come in and offer a couple
of birds, or a lamb or something, and just sort of slough this one off. This is
a death penalty if you do this.’

II. God is holy and we are to be holy before Him.

Secondly, if you look at verses 7 and 8,
here’s where we see that God-motivation reiterated in Leviticus 20.
We’re told here to practice holiness because God is holy, and because He is the
one who’s making us holy. Now remember that, because one of the things we’re
going to learn from Leviticus 20 is the principle of ongoing moral principles
from the Old Testament functioning in the New Testament, and this passage in
Leviticus 20:7-8 has a distinct echo in Philippians 3. There is a passage in
Philippians 3–and you almost feel like Paul has this very passage in the back of
his mind as he is calling the Philippians to a life of holiness. Some of you
will already know what passage I’m referring to — I hope we all will by the time
we get there. But just keep that in the back of your mind. You have verses 7
and 8, the second part of the chapter, where this practice of holiness is
exhorted because God is holy, and because He is the one who is making us holy.

III. Serious penalties for serious sins.

Thirdly, if you look at verses 9-21, you will see a
series of serious penalties for serious sins. Many of these sins are sexual in
nature and involve sexual activity with those who are within the bounds of
kin…which never ought to be violated…those boundaries of kinship in terms of
sexual relations. But all of these sins have serious penalties. To some of
them, again, the death penalty is attached. To some of them, God says ‘I’ll
make you childless if you commit that sin.’ And in some of them, God says,
‘I’ll curse you if you commit that sin.’ And so, serious consequences are
assigned to these serious sins.

IV. Exile, separation as a result of sin.

And then, if you look at verses 22-26,
there’s a fourth part of the chapter. And there God says, ‘Now, just so you’re
getting My point, if you’re unfaithful to My call to holiness I want you to know
that I’ll take you out of the land.’ There is a threat of exile from the
promised land if the people of God are not faithful to the Lord’s commandment.

V. The death penalty for false worship.

And then finally, if you look at verse 27, He’s back
to the whole issue of spiritism and necromancy, and the sins of going
after these familiar spirits, and He says again there will be a death penalty
for anyone who is practicing as a medium or a spiritist, or who is conjuring up
familiar spirits. And so He frames the chapter, notice, by warning the children
of Israel against the religious practices of the cultures around them.

So there’s the five parts — and you could
outline this chapter in many ways. I hope that’s a helpful way to get your head
around why God is grouping some of these laws together. Sometimes you read
these passages and you wonder…it’s sort of a stream of consciousness. Why did
He move from that one to that one? Well, I give you these structures to help you
understand a little bit of the logic of why the laws are stated in the way that
they are.

Now before we read God’s word, let’s look to Him in
prayer and ask for His help and blessing.

Lord God, thank You for Your word. We pray that
You would bless our study of it tonight to our spiritual good. Set our desires
on You. Help us to long to be holy because You are holy, because You have saved
us, because of Your grace, because of what our Lord Jesus is like, because of
what we long more than anything else to be, and that is with You forever, free
from sin — not only from its guilt, but also from its power and presence. And
we’ll give You the praise and the glory, because we ask these things in Jesus’
name. Amen.

Let’s hear God’s word in Leviticus 20, beginning in
verse 1. Here’s the first section of the chapter:

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘You shall also say to the
sons of Israel, ‘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. I 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. If 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, then 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.

“‘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.’”

[So there’s the word, the death penalty, for those who
participate in Molech worship or in the spiritism — two common sins of Egypt and
of Canaan.

The second part of the chapter, beginning in verse
7:]

“‘You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am
the Lord your God. And you shall keep My statutes and practice them; I am the
Lord who sanctifies you.’”

[That’s the call to the practice of holiness because God
is holy, and because it’s God who is actually working to make us holy. Here’s
the third section of the chapter, beginning in verse 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.

“ ‘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. If 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. If 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. If 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. If there is a man who marries a woman and her
mother, it is immorality; both he and they shall be burned with fire, that there
may be no immorality in your midst. If there is a man who lies with an animal,
he shall surely be put to death; you shall also kill the animal. If 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.

“ ‘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. If 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. You 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 shall bear their guilt. If there is a man
who lies with his uncle’s wife he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness; they
shall bear their sin. They shall die childless. If there is a man who takes his
brother’s wife, it is abhorrent; he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness. They
shall be childless.’”

[There’s the third section of the chapter: all these
serious punishments for all these serious sins. By the way, notice in verse 21,
this was the text that troubled King Henry VIII of England. You remember his
brother, Arthur, had been married to Catherine when he was five, and then Arthur
died. And then Henry was married to Catherine, and they were unable to have
children, and Henry VIII wondered if God was punishing him because of his
violation of Leviticus 19:21. Well, for those of you who don’t remember English
history, that maybe doesn’t register with you. Here’s the fourth section of the
chapter, verse 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. Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall
drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have
abhorred them. Hence 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. You 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. Thus 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.’”

[And so here in the midst of this threat of exile if
they’re unholy, once again there’s this God-motivation to holiness: ‘I am holy
and I have set you apart for Me, so you’re to be holy.’ And you also see in
that passage that very direct warning not to be like the peoples of the land.
And then, finally, the fifth part of the chapter, verse 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.’”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

Now, as you can already tell, there is a lot in this
chapter, and I’ve got a number of points that I doubt I’m going to get to, but
let’s see how far I can get us.

Let’s start back in that very first section,
from verses 1-6, and I want you to see this principle first: This passage in
Leviticus reminds us that there is such a thing as lesser and greater matters
in the law;
weightier and lighter matters in the law. You remember when
Jesus said this to the Pharisees who were tithing the mint and the dill, and
they were very, very scrupulous about their tithing even of those small plants
in the corner of their gardens. They were making sure to pull out ten percent of
them and bring them as a part of their offerings to the Lord. That never struck
me until my wife started planting mint and certain things like that, and it was
just this very tiny little patch was all that we needed in the garden of this
stuff, and I thought of these Pharisees — you know, going out to little plots
that big around and working out a tenth of that as a part of their tithe. It
was the ultimate in scrupulosity! You know, when you’re getting down to tithing
mint, you’re really overboard! And you remember Jesus says, ‘But the
problem is you’ve done this, and you’ve done what? You’ve neglected the
weightier matters of the law
.’

Now, we Protestants sometimes, when we’re asked the
question, ‘Are there some sins that are more serious than others?’ we have a
default setting that says, ‘Well, no. All sins are equally serious because any
sin can send you to hell.’ Well, that’s true. Any want of conformity unto or
transgression of the law of God is enough, apart from the saving grace of
Christ, to condemn any sinner. But remember how our Catechism answers
that question when it asks the question, “Are some sins more heinous than the
others?” And what answer does it give? “Yes. Some sins are more heinous than
others” by the nature of the person committing them, or the nature of the
circumstances connected to those sins. Some sins are just more heinous than the
others.

You know, committing adultery is a great sin, but
for David to commit adultery the way he did with Bathsheba had with it things
that made it a greatly heinous sin. For one thing, here was David, who already
had multiple wives; and he was the richest and most powerful man in the land,
and he could have had any woman that he wanted. But who does he take? He takes
the wife of one of his most loyal men – a man that we find out later on was one
of his mighty men, and a man who David betrayed to death. And all of these
things go together, and bring Nathan to come and tell this parable about a man
who had many sheep and a man who had one sheep; and the man who had many sheep
took the one sheep from the man who had the one sheep, and he said, “You’re the
man!”

David’s sin had things attendant to it that made it
an exceedingly heinous sin. So there are some sins that are more heinous than
others.

Now, our Roman Catholic friends end up categorizing
those sins as “moral” and “venial”. We Protestants rightly say,
no, no, no, that’s not the way to do this. But it is interesting, isn’t it, in
Leviticus, and in Exodus, and in Deuteronomy there are some sins that are
forgiven, and there are particular ways that those things are forgiven through
the ritual system — especially sins that pertain to the ceremonial code — and
then there are some sins for which the death penalty is given.

And the point is, of course, that these things
are part of the weightier matters of the law
. These are moral concerns;
they’re not just ceremonial or ritual concerns
. These are moral concerns.
In fact, in the New Testament we will find reference to the moral principles
contained in passages like Leviticus 20 applied to Christians, and so one thing
we learn from this passage is that there is such a thing in God’s Old Testament
law as weightier and lesser matters, and those ceremonial matters like the
tithing of mint and dill, those things would pass away with the end of the
ceremonial code. But sexual morality, the demands of biblical sexual fidelity
within marriages, that would not pass away. That was a weightier matter of the
law, and God appointed more serious punishments for those laws to draw attention
to this as a core moral value for His people. He wanted His people to be
different.

So that’s one thing that we learn from this passage.

There’s a second thing I want you to see from
the very first section, too, and you’ll see it especially if you look at
verse 5: “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.”
Now, there are
actually two things there that I want to draw your attention to.

The first is that phrase “I will cut off….” Now,
very often we approach the Old Testament as if it is a shadowy, pre-Christian
book; and that the New Testament is the Christian book, and the Old Testament is
just sort of a neat book of illustrations for the New Testament, which is really
the Christian book, and the Old Testament is sort of a pre-Christian book. But
the early Christians didn’t view the Old Testament that way. The early
Christians viewed the Old Testament as a Christian book, and the New Testament
was your interpretation manual…I’m overstating this, but I’m doing it for
effect…was your interpretation manual to help you understand the Old Testament
as a Christian ought to understand it.

I had a dear, dear friend whom I admire greatly who
has preached through the New Testament many times in his ministry, but by
conviction he has never preached through the Old Testament because he doesn’t
think that Christians ought to be preached to from the Old Testament, because
that’s a book for the Jewish people. That’s a book for the people of Israel, and
so we Christians, we study the New Testament and we use the Old Testament for
illustrations. That’s not the way New Testament Christians viewed the Old
Testament!

Let me give you one example. Look at that phrase:
“I will cut him off from among his people” — this man who does this particular
sin. (By the way, you see the same proscription made against the man in verse
17: “If there is a man who takes his sister, his father’s daughter or his
mother’s daughter….” that’s not what I’m looking for. It’s in that section in
the passage where he lies with his father’s wife…yeah, back in 11: “If 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.” What passage in the New Testament picks up on that principle and
applies it to Christians? You remember? This was happening in Corinth. You
know this. This was happening in Corinth when Paul was ministering in the
church there.

In First Corinthians 5, in the midst of that
glorious exposition of holiness, Paul draws attention to the fact that in
Corinth there was a man who was shacking up with his father’s wife. And Paul
quotes actually a phrase that comes from Deuteronomy, but probably was very
similar to this, and he says that “the evil one shall be cut off from among
you.” Now that’s the same language you see there in verse 5: “I will cut him
off from among [the] people
.” Now, in the Old Testament, of course that
language literally meant the application of the death penalty through stoning,
or through burning, or through exile and such. Paul applies that in the way of
excommunication from the church. You’re to put him out. But the
principle remains, Paul says. There is to be holiness; there is to be sexual
morality amongst the people of God. They’re not to violate the moral standards
that God has set forth in His word. So here is Paul appealing to an Old
Testament moral principle and saying, ‘This is a requirement for Christians to
be faithful sexually within proper biblical bounds.’

But the third thing I want you to see here has to
do with this language of “those who play the harlot after him.”
You know
that in the Bible, in the Old Testament and the New, there is this language of
saying that those who are unfaithful to God in some way are “playing the harlot”
— they’re committing spiritual adultery against the Lord. And you’re seeing that
language used here in verses 5 and 6: “I will cut off from among the people both
him and all those who play the harlot after him, by playing the harlot after
Molech.” In other words, if the children of Israel start worshiping Molech
through this horrendous practice of child-sacrifice to Molech, they are playing
the harlot after Molech. ‘They are being spiritually unfaithful to Me.’ And
this image is found throughout the Old Testament, where Israel is reckoned to be
in a marriage union with the Lord God, and their unfaithfulness to Him is called
adultery. It’s called spiritual adultery. ‘You’re playing the harlot; you’re
going after other gods; you’re being unfaithful to Me.’

And the New Testament has that same phrase. In
fact, one of the interesting phrases the New Testament will use for this is the
phrase “making God a liar.” I want you to think about this for a minute,
because I think there’s an extremely important principle for holiness. (And
we’re probably going to have to stop right here on this principle. I’ve got
three points, and I’ve got about seven that I wanted to get to. But we’ll stop
on this one.)

All our love to God begins by our perceiving love
of God to us.
What does John say? “We love because He first loved us” – so
all of our love to God begins by our perceiving the love of God to us.
Therefore, when we turn to any other god, any other thing, as the one, as the
thing, as the person that we love the most, that we get more delight or
satisfaction from than God, we are committing spiritual adultery and we are
saying that there is a love more satisfying than God’s. And what does the New
Testament call that? That’s you accusing God of being a liar. When God says,
‘You will find no rest until you rest in Me,’ and then we proceed to go off and
find our rest somewhere else, what are we saying? ‘God, You’re a liar.’ And
when we do that, you know what we’re doing? We’re committing spiritual adultery.

When we say, ‘You know, what I really delight in
is….’ and start filling in the blanks…it’s my husband, it’s my wife, or it’s
my job, or it’s my status, or it’s my dream, or it’s my boat, or it’s my
team….fill in the blank for you, whatever it is. My real delight is in that.
(And by the way, we really don’t have to say that. We can deny that’s
true. We can say that we love God and then we can live in such a way as to show
that our real delight is in something else other than God — what are we saying?
We are saying, ‘No, Lord, it’s not true that Your love is better than anything
else.’)

And my friends, of course it is precisely Satan who
wants to convince us that there is something better than God’s love; that
there’s something more fulfilling, something more satisfying, something more
delightful — there’s something better in this universe than God’s love, than
rest, and delight and satisfaction in God Himself. And when we cave in to that
temptation to believe that real satisfaction is found not in God and not in
obedience to His commands, but outside those parameters, you realize we’re doing
exactly what Adam and Eve did. “You mean God told you that you couldn’t eat
from all the fruit in the garden?” were the words. Implication: “What a
stingy God! He’s keeping good things back from you.” And the woman ends up
looking at the fruit, looking at it “…umhmm, that looks good to eat…” and
she takes of the fruit. Why? Because Satan has tempted her to believe what?
That God is not good; that there is some delight outside of God that would give
her more satisfaction than God and obedience to God.

And so what has she done? She has made God a liar,
and that’s of course why the Scriptures also say, “Let God be true, and every
man be found a liar,” because Satan wants to convince us in the quest for
holiness…Satan wants to convince us, “If you follow the Bible, you’re going to
have a shriveled up, un-enjoyable, un-exciting, un-satisfying, un-full,
un-whole, un- robust, un-delightful life. But if you reject all that Puritanical
nonsense that you hear in those Christian churches, in the Bible, you can get
out and live it up! And you can taste the fruit of the wild side, and you can
have real satisfaction in this life!

And God, here in Leviticus (and of course it’s not
just here in Leviticus and elsewhere) is over and over saying to these people,
‘Delight is in Me. What I am not saying to you is, ‘You can either follow Me, or
you can have all those pleasures in the world, so you’d better give up on all
those pleasures of the world, and buck up and join the army and just tough it
out and follow Me, and at least you won’t get thrown into hell, but you won’t
have a bit of good fun along the way.’’

No. He says, ‘All delight, all satisfaction, all real
experience of love is found in relationship with Me; and if you choose other
than that, not only are you committing spiritual adultery against Me, but you’re
giving up what is best for what is worth nothing at all, because that really
can’t satisfy you; because I didn’t build you to be satisfied by anything but
Me.’

So, we have to stop there for tonight — Leviticus,
chapter 20. Let’s look to God in prayer.

Lord God, as we pursue holiness help us to
remember that Your call to pursuit of holiness is not a call to lack of delight,
but to more delight than the world could possibly conceive of, apart from You.
Help us to remember that when we are at the same time remembering to say No to
the world and Yes to the Spirit. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Would you stand for God’s blessing.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our
Father and the Lord Jesus, the Messiah. Amen.

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