Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Of giving seed to Molech, and the punishment of this crime, Lev 20:1-5. Of consulting wizards, etc., Lev 20:6-8. Of disrespect to parents, Lev 20:9. Of adultery, Lev 20:10. Of incestuous mixtures, Lev 20:11, Lev 20:12. Bestiality, Lev 20:13-16. Different cases of incest and uncleanness, Lev 20:17-21. Exhortations and promises, Lev 20:22-24. The difference between clean and unclean animals to be carefully observed, Lev 20:25. The Israelites are separated from other nations, that they may be holy, Lev 20:26. A repetition of the law against wizards and them that have familiar spirits, Lev 20:27.
That giveth any of his seed unto Molech - To what has been said in the note on Lev 18:21 (note), we may add, that the rabbins describe this idol, who was probably a representative or emblematical personification of the solar influence, as made of brass, in the form of a man, with the head of an ox; that a fire was kindled in the inside, and the child to be sacrificed to him was put in his arms, and roasted to death. Others say that the idol, which was hollow, was divided into seven compartments within; in one of which they put flour, in the second turtle-doves, in the third a ewe, in the fourth a ram, in the fifth a calf, in the sixth an ox, and in the seventh a child, which, by heating the statue on the outside, were all burnt alive together. I question the whole truth of these statements, whether from Jewish or Christian rabbins. There is no evidence of all this in the sacred writings. And there is but presumptive proof, and that not very strong, that human sacrifices were at all offered to Molech by the Jews. The passing through the fire, so frequently spoken of, might mean no more than a simple rite of consecration to the service of this idol. Probably a kind of ordeal was meant, the persons passing suddenly through the flame of a large fire, by which, though they might be burnt or scorched, yet they were neither killed nor consumed. Or they might have passed between two large fires, as a sort of purification. See the notes on Lev 20:14; See the notes on Lev 18:21. Caesar, in his history of the Gallic war, lib. vi., c. 16, mentions a custom of the Druids similar to this. They made an image of wickerwork, enclosed those in it whom they had adjudged to death, and, setting the whole on fire, all were consumed together.
Familiar spirits - See the notes on Lev 19:31; and Exo 22:18 (note).
Curseth his father or his mother - See the notes on Gen 48:12, and Exo 20:12 (note). He who conscientiously keeps the fifth commandment can be in no danger of this judgment. The term יקלל yekallel signifies, not only to curse, but to speak of a person contemptuously and disrespectfully, to make light of; so that all speeches which have a tendency to lessen our parents in the eyes of others, or to render their judgment, piety, etc., suspected and contemptible, may be here included; though the act of cursing, or of treating the parent with injurious and opprobrious language, is that which is particularly intended.
Committeth adultery - To what has been said in the note on See Exo 20:14 (note), we may add, that the word adultery comes from the Latin adulterium, which is compounded of ad, to or with, and alter, another, or, according to Minshieu, of ad alterius forum, he that approaches to another man's bed.
They have wrought confusion - See Leviticus 18, and especially the note on Lev 18:6 (note).
They shall be burnt with fire - As there are worse crimes mentioned here, (see Lev 20:11 and Lev 20:17), where the delinquent is ordered simply to be put to death, or to be cut off, it is very likely that the crime mentioned in this verse was not punished by burning alive, but by some kind of branding, by which they were ever after rendered infamous. I need not add that the original, באש ישרפו baesh yishrephu, may, without violence to its grammatical meaning, be understood as above, though in other places it is certainly used to signify a consuming by fire. But the case in question requires some explanation; it is this: a man marries a wife, and afterward takes his mother-in-law or wife's mother to wife also: now for this offense the text says all three shall be burnt with fire, and this is understood as signifying that they shall be burnt alive. Now the first wife, we may safely presume, was completely innocent, and was legally married: for a man may take to wife the daughter if single, or the mother if a widow, and in neither of these cases can any blame attach to the man or the party he marries; the crime therefore lies in taking both. Either, therefore, they were all branded as infamous persons, and this certainly was severe enough in the case of the first wife; or the man and the woman taken last were burnt: but the text says, both he and they; therefore, we should seek for another interpretation of they shall be burnt with fire, than that which is commonly given. Branding with a hot iron would certainly accomplish every desirable end both for punishment and prevention of the crime; and because the Mosaic laws are so generally distinguished by humanity, it seems to be necessary to limit the meaning of the words as above.
If a woman approach unto any beast - We have the authority of one of the most eminent historians in the world, Herodotus, to say that this was a crime not unknown in Egypt; yea, that a case of this nature actually took place while he was there. Εγενετο δ' εν τῳ νο μῳ τουτῳ επ' εμευ τουτο το τερας, Γυναικι Τραγος εμισγετο αναφανδον. Τουτο ες επιδειξιν ανθρωπων απικετο. - Herod. in Euterp., p. 108. Edit. Gale, Lond. 1679.
"In this district, within my own recollection, this portentous business took place: a goat coupled so publicly with a woman that every person knew it," etc. After this, need we wonder that God should have made laws of this nature, when it appears these abominations were not only practiced among the Egyptians, but were parts of a superstitious religious system? This one observation will account for many of those strange prohibitions which we find in the Mosaic law; others, the reasons of which are not so plain, we should see the propriety of equally, had we ampler historic records of the customs that existed in that country.
The land, whither I bring you to dwell therein, spue you not out - See this energetic prosopopoeia explained in the note on Lev 18:25 (note). From this we learn that the cup of the iniquities of the Canaanitish nations was full; and that, consistently with Divine justice, they could be no longer spared.
A land that floweth with milk and honey - See this explained Exo 3:8 (note).
Between clean beasts and unclean - See the notes on Leviticus 11 (note).
A familiar spirit - A spirit or demon, which, by magical rites, is supposed to be bound to appear at the call of his employer. See the notes on Gen 41:8; Exo 7:11 (note), Exo 7:22 (note), Exo 7:25 (note); and Lev 19:31 (note). From the accounts we have of the abominations both of Egypt and Canaan, we may blush for human nature; for wherever it is without cultivation, and without the revelation of God, it is every thing that is vile in principle and detestable in practice. Nor would any part of the habitable globe materially differ from Egypt and Canaan, had they not that rule of righteousness, the revealed Law of God, and had not life and immortality been brought to light by the Gospel among them. From these accounts, for which we could easily find parallels in ancient Greece and Italy, we may see the absolute need of a Divine revelation, without which man, even in his best estate, differs little from the brute.