June 29, 2005
“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.