Aaargh, Leviticus, you are driving me crazy! This was not put together by anyone with a sense of narrative. It may have been put together by a rollercoaster designer. This is a really horrible chapter.
Its is full of many many capital offences. Basically, you breath, you die. We’ve gone from sketching out an anachronistically enlightened society in ch19 to sounding like living under worse than sharia law in ch20.
The first is for giving children to Molech… infanticide and denying God. Sort of OK. Then other occult practises. Sadly as obvious as it sounds, worship of Molech continued. Solomon built a temple to it, and some of the kings gave children to Molech.
Then it goes through all the sexual prohibitions from ch18. And adds a few of the 10 commandments: cursing your mother and father, adultery (all parties executed), incest, homosexuality, bestiality, marrying aunts or uncles, sleeping with your wife while she is menstruating, marrying your brother’s wife (while the brother is alive, presumably? Because marrying a brothers widow was like a welfare obligation, key plot point in Ruth). And so on.
There are different levels of punishment: sometimes executed, sometimes “cut off from the people” sometimes dying childless.
There is disagreement about what “cut off…” is.The sense of the original is a branch being cut off from a tree. May have meant stoning, may have meant excommunication or could refer to dying young without offspring (which happened to Jesus). In practice it settled down to being shunned for a while until purification or atonement was done.
There is a vagueness between punishment by God and by people. Dying childless, god’s doing, execution, done by human hands, cut off from the people, maybe either?
In a sense its saying that it makes no difference. Being god’s people was like being saved. Death at human hands and death by “natural” causes, the curse is death itself.
They are travelling to the promised land, which is already occupied. Jericho and all that. There will be a lot of death. They won’t be up to the amount of killing required, they mix with the locals and that is their downfall. This is saying that differentiating themselves from the people they left in egypt and the people they will encounter in canaan is incredibly important.
Jews never literally implemented these rules. In practise execution was very rare.
Jesus of course encountered a woman being stoned for adultery, presumably under this law, and said “whoever is guiltless can throw the first stone”, then pronounced forgiveness for her sins.
The message is that we are dead in sin. The detail is horrible, the theme is horrible. But everyone will face their death. God is life. Reconciliation is our only chance.