Modern man prides himself in not being violent and savage, and yet we have butchered 60 million babies and counting. We have high rates of drug and alcohol and porn addiction, suicide, incarceration, and so on. We sacrifice babies to our Molech, and we sacrifice millions more in the slow cooker of government programs and prisons. We have rejected Jesus and His easy yoke, calling it harsh, and we have demanded the demented yoke of humanistic hubris and tyrannical government. And the only way out of this mess is through the Cross of Jesus.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses saying, Again thou shalt say to the children of Israel, whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death…” (Lev. 20:1-27).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
The text opens with a prohibition against offering children to Molech and against turning a blind eye to it, as well as all idolatry, since the people are to be holy and keep God’s statutes (Lev. 20:1-8). Seven crimes are listed with death penalties (20:9-16), and five additional sins are listed, with the community sanctions of being “cut off from among their people” and “bearing their sin” (Lev. 20:17-21). “Dying childless” could imply the possibility of a civil penalty, but it is probably a direct sanction from God since it identifies one of those instances as being “unclean,” which is a ceremonial status (20:21). God reminds His people that He is giving them life and blessing in a good land through His law, which is why they must remain separate from the other nations (20:22-24). The daily sign of the distinction was their diet (20:25-26), and that was to remind them to remove all idolatry out of their midst (20:27).
COMPARED TO WHAT?
“Molech” is related to the Hebrew word “melech” which means “king.” The fires of Molech are most likely a generic reference to the various cults of the nations. Dedication of children to Molech seems to have included both child sacrifice as well as temple prostitution. And right on schedule our nation is actually debating the appropriateness of Drag Queen story, so-called gender “transition,” and the furies are out in full force demanding abortion as “health care.” This is nothing short of the new dedication of children to Molech.
You can always tell the god or gods of a culture by where coercion and violence are accepted and obedience and submission are required. Even in relatively conservative churches, if a woman says she must obey her husband, she will sometimes get concerned looks and questions about whether everything is OK (same with obeying a pastor or elder). But if you mention a court order or taxes (with threat of violence/prison), the assumption is that you better just submit. The fact that many modern Christians are embarrassed that God would require death penalties for certain crimes but just shrug when our civil government sends thieves to prison for decades, tells you who our god is, who we see as holy.
In these laws we see God’s requirement that we hallow Him particularly in our families and sexuality. Over the centuries, acts of treason and desertion from an army in time of war have been punished with death, subtly insisting that civil loyalties are the most sacred. Instead of accusing God of harshness, we ought to assume that He is warning us and the world about the potency and sacredness of marriage and family (Heb. 13:4). Jesus also makes it clear what cursing father or mother looks like: “For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, if a man shall say to his father or mother, it is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightiest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother” (Mk. 7:10-12). Jesus is clearly implying that certain forms a high-handed neglect of elderly parents are the kind of cursing of parents that might be tried as form of murder.
CRIMES & SINS & JUSTICE
This text distinguishes between crimes that require a civil penalty (20:9-16), and sins that require a ceremonial or familial penalty (20:17-21). The distinction between crimes and sins designates different jurisdictions: the state, the family, and the church. Sins are to be adjudicated and addressed by individuals, families, and churches as appropriate, while crimes have civil penalties and are the proper jurisdiction of the state. God has given the civil magistrate the sword of vengeance, which means that the state is only good at violence and coercion (Rom. 13). This is why the Bible requires a fiercely limited civil government. In a Christian land, all crimes would also be sins, but not all sins are crimes. In a pagan land, it’s more of a Venn diagram, and not all crimes are really sins.
It’s worth noting that only murder required a mandatory death penalty; all of these death penalties are maximum sentences (Gen. 9:6-9, Dt. 19:11-13). We can see this in another law regarding Sabbath breaking which also called for a death penalty (Lev. 24:11-22, cf. Num. 15:32-36), however in the days of Nehemiah, he suppressed Sabbath commerce but didn’t institute a death penalty (Neh. 13:19-21). We see something similar with the death penalty for homosexuality in our text (Lev. 20:13), but the good kings Asa and Jehoshaphat exiled the sodomites from the land (1 Kgs. 15:12, 22:46), and Josiah tore down their houses of prostitution (2 Kgs. 23:7).
In the New Testament, we do not see the apostles lobbying for death penalties. What do we make of that? Paul does say after listing a number of crimes and sins, “that they which commit such things are worthy of death” (Rom. 1:32), and elsewhere he says the law is good, so long as it is used lawfully, to prevent lawlessness and everything that is “contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel” (1 Tim. 1:8-11).
Therefore, we conclude that the law (with its death penalties) remains the perfect standard of justice and reveals God’s wrath against our sins and crimes. We affirm the goodness of the law for public policy and all morality, but we affirm it first and foremost as that which drives the world to Christ and His glorious gospel. There is no life outside of Christ, and all who hate His wisdom love death. The world says believe in yourself, re-invent yourself, find yourself, and the end of that road is nothing but sadness and death: rage and shame, sickness and scars, mutilation and murder. And the law drives sinners to despair.
The law drives sinners to the cross, to the place of execution and there the gospel proclaims: Christ died for guilty sinners. Christ died for lawbreakers. Christ died for the unclean, the profane, the obscene, the sodomites, the pedophiles, the prostitutes, the liars, the idolaters, the proud, and all who have dishonored their parents. The law cannot save, but what the law is powerless to do, God has done by sending His Son. Christ has received the death penalty for us. And this is why it is only those who know their guilt who are the ones who are in.