Dedicate yourselves to me and be holy because I am the LORD your God. I have chosen you as my people, and I expect you to obey my laws.
If you curse your father or mother, you will be put to death, and it will be your own fault.
If any of you men have sex with another man’s wife, both you and the woman will be put to death.
Having sex with one of your father’s wives disgraces him. So both you and the woman will be put to death, just as you deserve. It isn’t natural to have sex with your daughter-in-law, and both of you will be put to death, just as you deserve. It’s disgusting for men to have sex with one another, and those who do will be put to death, just as they deserve. It isn’t natural for a man to marry both a mother and her daughter, and so all three of them will be burned to death. If any of you have sex with an animal, both you and the animal will be put to death, just as you deserve. (Leviticus 20:7-16)
Can’t we all just get along? God had chosen his people and as a consequence of the relationship that he now had with them, he expected them to obey him. Obedience was a result of God in their lives, not the cause. God then prohibited a variety of bad behavior, ranging from the cursing of parents to inappropriate sexual activities. What all of these bad behaviors had in common was their penalty: death.
Given that the overall principle in punishment according to God was eye for eye—that is, the penalty for a crime must not exceed the crime—why was cursing parents, adultery, and intercourse with animals treated the same way that murder was treated?
Murder was punished by death because human beings were created in the image of God. A man and woman became one flesh in marriage and produced offspring who were in their image and likeness. Sexual intercourse outside of that pattern broke the image of God just as much as murder did. Cursing parents was like cursing one’s own existence and threatened one’s very survival.
God knows the importance of relationships and family. For human beings to survive and prosper, they must get along. God treated all threats to the survival and prosperity of his people harshly. Love isn’t just a pleasant feeling. It ensures our continued existence.