FOR THE PROTECTION OF SOCIETY, GOD’S STANDARD FOR CIVIL JUSTICE IS THAT THE PUNISHMENT MUST FIT THE CRIME
Constable: God evidently preserved the record of this significant incident involving a blasphemer, in Scripture, not only because it took place at the time God was revealing these standards of sanctification. It also illustrates how God regarded those who despised the very standards He was giving. This event was a warning to the people of the seriousness of sanctification, just as the death of Nadab and Abihu (ch. 10) was a similar warning to the priests.
Kenneth Mathews: Why, we might ask, was cursing the name of God so troubling that the man had to “be put to death” (v. 16)? The importance of God’s “Name” is not a mere word, and the blasphemy was not a matter of a ghastly four-letter word. Rather, in the Bible the existence of the Lord’s “Name” constituted the personhood and presence of the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 12:5). “The name of the Lord” (v. 16) was also indicative of his authority. For a prophet or priest to speak or minister in the name of the Lord meant that the person was claiming the approval and authority of God (Deuteronomy 18:15–22). This is why the church baptizes “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The authority that the church possesses is derived from the Lord God himself, and the actions we take must be in accord with the will of the Lord. By cursing “the Name,” the man was dishonoring the person and presence of the Lord as the Covenant Lord.
Wiersbe: It may seem strange to us that the Book of Leviticus is interrupted at this point to tell about a blasphemer who was judged, but the narrative is an illustration, not an interruption. The basis for obedience to the law is the fear of the Lord, and people who blaspheme His holy name have no fear of God in their hearts.
I. (:10-12) THE FEAR OF GOD IS THE BEGINNING OF JUSTICE
A. (:10) The Incident – Ethnic Brawling
“Now the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the sons of Israel; and the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel struggled with each other in the camp.”
B. (:11a) The Infraction – Clear Attack on God’s Character and Authority
“And the son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name and cursed.”
R. Laird Harris: The man may have engaged in some curse procedure to injure his opponent by a kind of hex in the name of the Lord, or it may have been an angry cursing of the Israelite man and his God.
Roy Gane: It is not that the half-Israelite invokes the name “YHWH” to curse his human antagonist, as the prophet Elisha did (2 Kings 2:24; cf. Josh. 6:26). Rather, he assaults the Lord by cursing him personally, as shown by the way the following legislation begins: “If anyone curses [Piel of qll] his God, he will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes [Qal of nqb] the name of the LORD [yhwh] must be put to death” (Lev. 24:15–16). This reiterates the command of Exodus 22:28: “You shall not curse [Piel of qll] God, nor curse [Qal of ʾrr] a ruler of your people” (NASB). Because a curse was regarded as a real and potent weapon in ancient times, such an attack was not merely figurative. There is a closer connection between blasphemy against God and assault on humans and animals, the topics of the legislation in Leviticus 24:15–22, than we thought!
Constable: Maybe since his father was an Egyptian (v. 10), he did not have the proper respect for Yahweh, and did not sanctify Him in thought and speech as God required.
David Guzik: By some accounts, only the Jewish high priest was allowed to pronounce the holy name of God (Yahweh). He was allowed to say it only once a year – on the Day of Atonement. Some say that the proper pronunciation of the name would be passed on from the high priest to his successor, with the former’s last breath. This is why there was confusion for many years about the exact pronunciation of the four letters that state the name of the covenant God of Israel (YHWH). The letters have been pronounced differently over the years. For some time, the letters YHWH were mistakenly pronounced as “Jehovah” instead of “Yahweh” (Yah-veh). Adam Clarke wrote in his day (1830): “The Jews never pronounce this name, and so long has it been disused among them that the true pronunciation is now totally lost.”
R. K. Harrison: The holiness of God is reinforced by the drastic penalty prescribed for blasphemy. In the Near East the name of a person was bound up intimately with his character, so that in the case of God, blasphemy was in effect an act of repudiation.
C. (:11b) The Inquiry before Moses – Foreign Complications
“So they brought him to Moses.”
David Guzik: The issue was unclear because the man was a foreigner. The laws of Israel were not necessarily applied to foreigners as well as Israelites. The question was, “Does the law against blasphemy apply the same way against a foreigner in our midst?” The Law of Moses protected the foreigner (Exodus 23:9), but they needed guidance to understand to what extent the laws of Israel applied to foreigners among them.
D. (:11c) The Identification of the Offender’s Mother
“(Now his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri,
of the tribe of Dan.)”
Richard Hess: The genealogy of the man’s mother raises the question as to the omission of his own name. The Sabbath breaker in Numbers 15:32–36, who was also killed, has no name either. This anonymity seems to reflect the judgment that such people are cut off from their family and nation. They no longer will be remembered and their names are forgotten.
E. (:12) The Internment – Seeking the Judgment of God
“And they put him in custody
so that the command of the LORD might be made clear to them.”
Wiersbe: If a Jew had committed the awful sin of blasphemy, Moses would have known what to do, but this man was part Jewish and part Egyptian, and the law had nothing to say about this. Taking the wise approach, Moses put the man in custody and waited for the Lord to tell him what to do. . .
Immature Christians want the Lord to give them rules and regulations to cover every area of life, and this explains why they’re immature. If we never have to pray, search the Scriptures, counsel with other believers, and wait on the Lord, we never will use our ‘spiritual muscles” and grow up. The Bible gives us precepts, principles, promises, and personal examples that together are adequate to guide us in the decisions of life. The motor club will give its members detailed maps for their trips, but the Bible is more of a compass that keeps us going in the right direction without spelling out every detail of the trip. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).
II. (:13-16) THE VERDICT OF GOD IS THE APPLICATION OF JUSTICE
(:13) Address to Moses
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,”
A. (:14) Revelation of the Verdict of Capital Punishment
1. Justice Protects against Pollution
“Bring the one who has cursed outside the camp,”
Roy Gane: to avoid polluting the camp with a corpse.
2. Justice Aligns with the Truth
“and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head;”
Richard Hess: The blaspheming has created a guilt in the community that affects all who heard it. Not only must the blasphemer be punished, but also the guilt of those who heard it must be returned symbolically to the responsible individual so that his destruction ends the impurity in the land.
More likely interpretation:
David Guzik: This was done in accord with a principle later specifically stated in Deuteronomy 17:6-7. Two or three of the witnesses publicly laid hands on the accused, as a sure testimony to his guilt. This also meant that the guilty man knew his accusers and could not be condemned by secret accusers.
The accusation had to be established as true. Deuteronomy 19:16-19 says that a false witness was to suffer the same punishment that would be given to the one against whom he made the accusation.
“By laying their hands upon his head they gave public testimony that they heard this person speak such words, and did in their own and in all the people’s names desire and demand justice to be executed upon him.” (Poole)
3. Justice Supported by the Community
“then let all the congregation stone him.”
R. K. Harrison: The precise method is not mentioned, but perhaps the offender was made to lie down, after which his head was crushed with large stones and the remainder of his body covered with smaller ones to form a cairn. This procedure would prevent anyone incurring accidental ceremonial defilement, and as long as the congregation remained in the area the heap of stones would serve as a reminder of the crime that had been committed.
B. (:15-16) Explanation of the Severe Verdict of Capital Punishment
1. (:15) Universal Personal Accountability
“And you shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying,
‘If anyone curses his God, then he shall bear his sin.”
2. (:16) Vindication of Capital Punishment
a. Seriousness of the Crime = Blaspheming the Name of the Lord
“Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death;”
b. Support of the Society = Participation in the Stoning
“all the congregation shall certainly stone him.”
c. Standard of Punishment the Same for Everyone = Alien and Native
“The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name,
shall be put to death.”
F. Duane Lindsey: Those aliens who lived in Israel and so enjoyed certain covenant blessings were not to repudiate the Author of that covenant.
III. (:17-22) KEY JUDICIAL PRINCIPLE: THE SEVERITY OF THE PUNISHMENT MUST MATCH THE SEVERITY OF THE CRIME
A. (:17-18) Fundamental Distinction Between Killing a Human and an Animal
1. Killing a Human Merits the Death Penalty
“And if a man takes the life of any human being,
he shall surely be put to death.”
F. Duane Lindsey: This digression prescribed other situations which applied alike to Israelite and alien, another connecting link being the application of the death penalty in the case of murder (vv. 17, 21).
2. (:18) Killing an Animal Merits Only Restitution
“And the one who takes the life of an animal
shall make it good, life for life.”
B. (:19-20) Lex Talionis – An Eye for an Eye
“And if a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.”
Gordon Wenham: It seems likely that this phrase eye for eye, etc. was just a formula. In most cases in Israel it was not applied literally. It meant that compensation appropriate to the loss incurred must be paid out. Thus if a slave lost an eye, he was given his freedom (Exod. 21:26). The man who killed an ox had to pay its owner enough for him to buy another (Lev. 24:18). Only in the case of premeditated murder was such compensation forbidden (Num. 35:16ff.). Then the principle of life for life must be literally enforced, because man is made in the image of God (Gen. 9:5–6).
Wiersbe: Because this principle has been misunderstood, many people have called it cruel and unjust. They have questioned how a God of love and mercy could enunciate it. But this law was actually an expression of God’s justice and compassion, because it helped restrain personal revenge in a society that had not police force or elaborate judicial system. Apart from this law, the strong could have crushed the weak at the least offense.
C. (:21) Fundamental Distinction Between Killing a Human and an Animal
“Thus the one who kills an animal shall make it good,
but the one who kills a man shall be put to death.”
Peter Pett: This now summarizes the two main principles above to make clear the differences in punishment for different deaths. It differentiates quite clearly between capital punishment for a human death and some other form of punishment for a beast’s death. It is to stress that no one must be slain because of the death of a beast, but that human life is sacred so that the murder of a human being must result in death for the perpetrator. Both these were something on which there must be no doubt. Death for death only applies to when a man is slain.
D. (:22) One Standard for All People
“There shall be one standard for you;
it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God.”
Mark Rooker: The central theme of this section is that of commensurate punishment for a crime, what has been called lex talionis. Retribution was to be fair, not arbitrary (Judg 1:6–7 may be an example).
John Schultz: In our contemporary society, we tend to emphasize the rights of the offender. While this can be good, this Scripture portion stresses the rights of society. The keyword is found in vs. 22, “You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born.” Both the alien and the native had the same right to be protected against evil, violence, and those influences that can unhinge society.
(:23) EPILOGUE – OBEDIENT APPLICATION OF CAPITAL PUNISHIMENT
“Then Moses spoke to the sons of Israel, and they brought the one who had cursed outside the camp and stoned him with stones. Thus the sons of Israel did, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.”
Richard Hess: The conclusion of the narrative brings about the execution of the blasphemer through stoning. The act of stoning provides an execution that is swift (and therefore as merciful as any execution may be expected), and in which the people participate. In this manner, Israel as a whole affirms the justice of the act and wipes the sin from their national responsibility.