Moses is here directed to say that again to the children of Israel which he had in effect said before, Lev. 20:2. We are sure it was no vain repetition, but very necessary, that they might give the more earnest heed to the things that were spoken, and might believe them to be of great consequence, being so often inculcated. God speaketh once, yea, twice, and what he orders to be said again we must be willing to hear again, because for us it is safe, Phil. 3:1.
I. Three sins are in these verses threatened with death:—
1. Parents abusing their children, by sacrificing them to Moloch, Lev. 20:2, 3. There is the grossest absurdity that can be in all the rites of idolatry, and they are all a great reproach to men’s reason; but none trampled upon all the honours of human nature as this did, the burning of children in the fire to the honour of a dunghill-god. It was a plain evidence that their gods were devils, who desired and delighted in the misery and ruin of mankind, and that the worshippers were worse than the beasts that perish, perfectly stripped, not only of reason, but of natural affection. Abraham’s offering Isaac could not give countenance, much less could it give rise to this barbarous practice, since, though that was commanded, it was immediately countermanded. Yet such was the power of the god of this world over the children of disobedience that this monstrous piece of inhumanity was generally practised; and even the Israelites were in danger of being drawn into it, which made it necessary that this severe law should be made against it. It was not enough to tell them they might spare their children (the fruit of their body should never be accepted for the sin of their soul), but they must be told, (1.) That the criminal himself should be put to death as a murderer: The people of the land shall stone him with stones (Lev. 20:2), which was looked upon as the worst of capital punishments among the Jews. If the children were sacrificed to the malice of the devil, the parents must be sacrificed to the justice of God. And, if either the fact could not be proved or the magistrates did not do their duty, God would take the work into his own hands: I will cut him off, Lev. 20:3. Note, Those that escape punishment from men, yet shall not escape the righteous judgments of God; so wretchedly do those deceive themselves that promise themselves impunity in sin. How can those escape against whom God sets his face, that is, whom he frowns upon, meets as an enemy, and fights against? The heinousness of the crime is here set forth to justify the doom: it defiles the sanctuary, and profanes the holy name of God, for the honour of both which he is jealous. Observe, The malignity of the sin is laid upon that in it which was peculiar to Israel. When the Gentiles sacrificed their children they were guilty of murder and idolatry; but, if the Israelites did it, they incurred the additional guilt of defiling the sanctuary (which they attended upon even when they lay under this guilt, as if there might be an agreement between the temple of God and idols), and of profaning the holy name of God, by which they were called, as if he allowed his worshippers to do such things, Rom. 2:23. (2.) That all his aiders and abetters should be cut off likewise by the righteous hand of God. If his neighbours concealed him, and would not come in as witnesses against him,—if the magistrates connived at him, and would not pass sentence upon him, rather pitying his folly than hating his impiety,—God himself would reckon with them, Lev. 20:4, 5. Misprision of idolatry is a crime cognizable in the court of heaven, and which shall not go unpunished: I will set my face against that man (that magistrate, Jer. 5:1) and against his family. Note, [1.] The wickedness of the master of a family often brings ruin upon a family; and he that should be the house-keeper proves the house-breaker. [2.] If magistrates will not do justice upon offenders, God will do justice upon them, because there is danger that many will go a whoring after those who do but countenance sin by winking at it. And, if the sins of leaders be leading sins, it is fit that their punishments should be exemplary punishments.
2. Children’s abusing their parents, by cursing them, Lev. 20:9. If children should speak ill of their parents, or wish ill to them, or carry it scornfully or spitefully towards them, it was an iniquity to be punished by the judges, who were employed as conservators both of God’s honour and of the public peace, which were both attacked by this unnatural insolence. See Prov. 30:17; The eye that mocks at his father the ravens of the valley shall pick out, which intimates that such wicked children were in a fair way to be not only hanged, but hanged in chains. This law of Moses Christ quotes and confirms (Matt. 15:4), for it is as direct a breach of the fifth commandment as wilful murder is of the sixth. The same law which requires parents to be tender of their children requires children to be respectful to their parents. He that despitefully uses his parents, the instruments of his being, flies in the face of God himself, the author of his being, who will not see the paternal dignity and authority insulted and trampled upon.
3. Persons abusing themselves by consulting such as have familiar spirits, Lev. 20:6. By this, as much as any thing, a man diminishes, disparages, and deceives himself, and so abuses himself. What greater madness can there be than for a man to go to a liar for information, and to an enemy for advice? Those do so who turn after those that deal in the black art, and know the depths of Satan. This is spiritual adultery as much as idolatry is, giving that honour to the devil which is due to God only; and the jealous God will give a bill of divorce to those that thus go a whoring from him, and will cut them off, they having first cut themselves off from him.
II. In the midst of these particular laws comes in that general charge, Lev. 20:7, 8, where we have,
1. The duties required; and they are two:—(1.) That in our principles, affections, and aims, we be holy: Sanctify yourselves and be you holy. We must cleanse ourselves from all the pollutions of sin, consecrate ourselves to the service and honour of God, and conform ourselves in every thing to his holy will and image: this is to sanctify ourselves. (2.) That in all our actions, and in the whole course of our conversation, we be obedient to the laws of God: You shall keep my statutes. By this only can we make it to appear that we have sanctified ourselves and are holy, even by our keeping God’s commandments; the tree is known by its fruit. Nor can we keep God’s statutes, as we ought, unless we first sanctify ourselves, and be holy. Make the tree good, and the fruit will be good.
2. The reasons to enforce these duties. (1.) “I am the Lord your God; therefore be holy, that you may resemble him whose people you are, and may be pleasing to him. Holiness becomes his house and household.” (2.) I am the Lord who sanctifieth you. God sanctified them by peculiar privileges, laws, and favours, which distinguished them from all other nations, and dignified them as a people set apart for God. He gave them his word and ordinances to be means of their sanctification, and his good Spirit to instruct them; therefore they must be holy, else they received the grace of God herein in vain. Note, [1.] God’s people are, and must be, persons of distinction. God has distinguished them by his holy covenant, and therefore they ought to distinguish themselves by their holy conversation. [2.] God’s sanctifying us is a good reason why we should sanctify ourselves, that we may comply with the designs of his grace, and not walk contrary to them. If it be the Lord that sanctifies us, we may hope the work shall be done, though it be difficult: the manner of expression is like that, 2 Cor. 5:5; He that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God. And his grace is so far from superseding our care and endeavour that it most strongly engages and encourages them. Work out your salvation, for it is God that worketh in you.