Leviticus 20 has a lot in common with chapter 18 where Yahweh warns the Israelites, “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes” (Leviticus 18:3). Now in Leviticus 20 He points to the source of Canaanite perversity: “Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones” (Leviticus 20:2). From the source of Canaanite idolatry that insults and violates one of the most basic family relationships (parents and children), every kind of perversity described in Leviticus 18:6-24 and 20:9-21 has burst forth.
Therefore, the Israelites must not tolerate even the simplest forms of Canaanite idolatry: “If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people” (Leviticus 20:6). Instead, the Israelites must be firmly rooted in Yahweh, in a living and transforming relationship with Him that puts holiness into practice: “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 20:7-8).
If they keep Yahweh’s commandments, they will be blessed materially and spiritually: “You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples… You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine (Leviticus 20:24, 26). But if they follow the path of Canaanite idolatry, they will fall into the same kind of perversions as the Canaanites and eventually, the same condemnation: “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them” (Leviticus 20:22-23).
The key people who will prevent the Israelites from taking the path of Canaanite idolatry are the priests. Their example in holiness will shepherd the rest of the people in Yahweh’s path; therefore the next two chapters, Leviticus 21 – 22, are dedicated to the priests’ life and ministry. While Canaanite mediums and necromancers practice every kind of perversity even in their family relationships, Israelite priests will allow their holiness and devotion to Yahweh shine forth in those same relationships (Leviticus 21:1-15). Additionally, they will not permit any Israelite with a physical defect to exercise priestly functions (Leviticus 21:16-24). They will administer the material goods of their ministry with integrity (Leviticus 22:1-16). And they will ensure that every offering of the people is approved of by Yahweh, a holy demonstration of their devotion to Him (Leviticus 22:17-30). As they fulfill their ministry in holiness and integrity, the priests will shepherd the people into a new era for the land of Canaan, one that will replace the scandalous history of its previous inhabitants: “You shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the LORD who sanctifies you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God (Leviticus 22:32-33).
In the same way, if we want our brothers and sisters in Christian churches today to avoid idolatry, scandalous living, lying, materialism and perversion, the holy example of their pastors and leaders must shepherd them in the path of the Lord’s blessing. That is Yahweh’s plan for His people from Leviticus on: that they follow the holy example of their shepherds.