Leviticus 20

The Word Made Fresh

1The LORD said to Moses, 2“Tell the people that if any Israelite or any foreigner living among you sacrifices one of their children to Molech, the people must stone them to death. 3I will turn against anyone who does such a thing and remove them from the people because they have tainted my sanctuary and cheapened my sacred name. 4And if the people pretend not to see when someone gives a child to Molech, and does not put them to death, 5I will turn against them and their families and remove them from Israel, along with any who take part with them in corrupting themselves by worshiping Molech.

6“I will turn against any of the people who corrupt themselves by turning to mediums and soothsayers and will ban them from the community. 7So, you must dedicate yourselves and be set apart from other peoples, because I am the LORD your God. 8Keep all my laws and learn them. I am the LORD. I have set you apart.

9“Anyone who curses their father or mother must be put to death, and their death will be their own doing.

10“If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, the wife of his neighbor, both of them must be put to death. 11And if a man lies with his father’s wife, he has insulted his father, and both of them must be put to death. They have brought it on themselves. 12If a man has sex with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. They have brought it on themselves. 13If a man has sexual relations with another man, both of them are guilty of perversion, and must be put to death. They have brought it on themselves. 14If a man beds his wife and her mother, the three of them must be burned to death. They are perverse. You must remove such perversion from among you. 15If a man has sex with an animal, both of them must be put to death. 16If a woman approaches an animal and has sex with it, both of them must be put to death. They have brought it on themselves.

17If a man takes his sister or his half-sister as a wife they must both be banished from their families, and since he has violated his sister, he must be punished. 18If a man has sex with a woman during her menstrual cycle, they have both exposed her flow of blood and they both must be banished from their families. 19You shall not have sexual relations with your aunt, the sister of you mother or of your father. Such a thing would dishonor your own family, and both of you will be punished. 20If a man sleeps with his uncle’s wife, he has dishonored his uncle, and both he and the woman are subject to punishment, and they must die without children. 21If a man takes his brother’s wife it is a travesty. They have dishonored his brother, and they must die without children.

22“Tell the people they must obey all my commandments, or else the land I am settling you in will spit you out. 23Do not do the things the people I am driving out before you do. I am driving them out because of the dishonorable things they do, 24but I have told you that you will inherit their land as a gift from me. It is a land of great wealth and resources. I am the LORD your God and I have set you apart from all the other peoples. 25And that is why you must distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable birds and animals. Do not dishonor yourselves by eating unacceptable animals or birds or creatures that crawl on the ground. I have set you apart, and you must refuse to accept them. 26You are holy to me, for I the LORD am holy, and I have set you apart from all the other people of the earth to belong to me.

27Any man or woman who acts as a medium or soothsayer shall be stoned to death, and their death will be their own doing.


1-5: Parents who sacrifice or dedicate their children to Molech (one of the primary Canaanite deities) are to be stoned to death. This is the first place in the Holiness Code in which stoning is prescribed as a specific punishment, although it was a common form of execution in that day (Exodus 8:26, 17:14, 19:13, 21:28). Furthermore, this sentence is considered so important that if they refuse to carry it out God will disown them.

6-9: Consulting mediums and wizards is cause for removal from the community. Cursing one’s parents is a capital offense. The protection of the community’s integrity as the people of God is all-important.

10-12: Adultery is punishable by death, though the form of execution is not specified.

13: Homosexual sexual intercourse is also punishable by death, the method again not specified.

14: Here is a specific case: if a man takes a woman as his wife and also her mother, they are to be burned to death. It is thought by some that this practice was common among pagan people. This is the first of only two places where immolation is the prescribed method of execution. The other is a few verses down in 21:9.

15-16: Sexual intercourse with animals is a capital offence, probably because it denies God’s will as revealed in the creation of various species. It thus indicates a complete lack of scruples on the part of the guilty party.

17-21: Within families, sexual restraint is particularly important; so much so that violating any of the rules listed here is cause for banishment or even execution.

22-26: It is again emphasized that they must not behave as the Canaanites do because they are set apart to be a peculiar people in covenant with the LORD. Strict observance of the Holiness Code, including the distinction between “clean” and “unclean” animals, is demanded.

27: Wizards and mediums were common in Canaan, and the people might go to them for advice and guidance instead of depending on God. Therefore, they are not to be tolerated among God’s people. The punishment is rather severe.


It is not easy to be the people of God until you surrender completely to God’s will. Once you make that surrender God’s laws are easier to obey because you’re not just obeying the law, you’re obeying the LORD.