Blasphemy in the Camp – Leviticus 24:10–23

Read the Passage: Leviticus 24:10-23

Blasphemy Committed (Lev. 24:10–12)

Leviticus 17–24 primarily contains moral and ceremonial laws that instruct God’s people in regard to practical holiness. More specifically, Lev. 17–22 discusses laws related to food, sex, capital offenses, and the priesthood; while Lev. 23–24 address ceremonial feasts and festivals. Within this eight-chapter section of this book, Lev. 24:10–24 is the only narrative. This passage details the account of a man who “blasphemed the name of the Lord” (Lev. 24:11). Note that the third commandment instructed Israel, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exod. 20:7). Likewise, at Exod. 22:28 the people had been told, “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” With his own words, then, this man broken the moral law, while simultaneously revealing his true opinion of God.

At first glance, the narrative of blasphemy in this passage may seem out of place, as it occurs right in the middle of several ceremonial laws related to various feasts, tabernacle regulations, and religious festivals. Yet, the point of including this memorable narrative here seems to be to enforce the idea that our actions in the public square matter to God. Christianity is not a private, internal belief system. Rather, the Christian faith is a worldview that necessarily shapes our external actions. Indeed, Proverbs 23:7 teaches, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (cf. Prov. 27:19). Jesus instructed his followers, “For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. . . . But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart” (Matt. 12:34; 15:18). The blasphemer in this passage is described as the son of an Egyptian, a detail that may be included here to warn Israel about the aforementioned dangers of inter-spiritual marriage (cf. Ex. 34:16; Deut. 7:1–4).

Penalty Enacted (Lev. 24:13–16)

In Lev. 24:13 God instructed Israel to “take outside the camp him who has cursed.” This brings to mind the teaching at Heb. 13:10–16 where we read Jesus was crucified “outside the gate” (Heb. 13:12) in fulfillment of the object lesson of carrying the remains of the offering on the Day of Atonement “outside the camp” (Lev. 16:27). This reminds us that even the sin of blasphemy can be forgiven in Christ; yet the man in this passage gave no indication of repentance. The stoning described here in Lev. 24:14–16 is an example of what God meant when He declared He would “not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exod. 20:7). It is interesting that in Lev. 24:13–16 the Lord twice specified the entire congregation was to participate in the stoning. This shows another reason why this narrative is included in this section of Leviticus—that is, because within these chapters God was explaining corporate and communal duties related to worship.

Principle Explained (Lev. 24:17–23)

In Lev. 24:17–23 God explains the penalty enacted in Lev. 24:13–16, as well as reiterating the principle of capital punishment. At Gen. 9:5–6 God had instructed His people, “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.” In this passage we learn that human life is unique, for man is made in God’s own image (cf. Gen. 1:26–27). When a man murders another man, he is in effect, killing God in effigy. Given this principle, how much more worthy of death is a blasphemer, for with his own words, he attacks not God’s image-bearer, but God himself. At Lev. 24:17, 21, God says blasphemers shall be put to death.

In Lev. 24:19–20, the Lord states, “If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him.” The principle given here, which was revealed earlier at Exod. 21:23–25 (cf. Deut. 19:21), is known formally as lex talionis. Although some have understood this principle to prescribe penalties for certain transgressions, it seems more likely that the purpose of lex talionis was not to give sentencing guidelines, but rather to limit the penalties for certain transgressions. In other words, the penalties for crimes were not to go beyond the transgressions themselves. Note that while it is the responsibility of the state to punish evildoers (cf. Rom. 13:4), Jesus taught that individual believers ought not to seek retribution, but should freely forgive sins.

Application Questions:

  1. Why is the way in which we speak about God important (cf. John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Phil. 2:10–11)? How does speaking God’s name relate to oath-taking and to prayer?
  2. What is the unpardonable sin (cf. Matt. 12:31–32; Mark 3:28–29)? Why is the unpardonable sin unforgivable?
  3. Why was the penalty for blasphemy so harsh? Why did the prescribed stoning have to be enacted by the entire congregation?
  4. If God, mankind, animals, and foliage share the similarity of life, why is the penalty for killing an animal or a plant less than that for killing a man?
  5. How do you explain lex talionis in light of Jesus’ teaching at Matt. 5:38–39 (cf. Rom. 12:17; 1 Cor. 6:7; 1 Pet. 3:9?