Why did participating in idol worship warrant execution? (17:2–5) Deuteronomy 17:2-5 New English Translation (NET Bible) 2 Suppose a man or woman is discovered among you—in one of your villages that the Lord your God is giving you—who sins before the Lord your God and breaks his covenant 3 by serving other gods and worshiping them—the sun, moon, or any other heavenly bodies which I have not permitted you to worship. 4 When it is reported to you and you hear about it, you must investigate carefully. If it is indeed true that such a disgraceful thing is being done in Israel, 5 you must bring to your city gates that man or woman who has done this wicked thing—that very man or woman—and you must stone that person to death.
Deuteronomy 17:2 - 5
ESV - 2 If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant. 3 And has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden.
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I would say that God made idolatry punishable by death on the same basis that He made adultery punishable by death (Leviticus 20:10) -- because it is a betrayal of the most intimate relationship in the deepest sense possible (and, in the case of idolatry, not just against another human being, but against the source of life itself). In multiple locations in Scripture (Jeremiah 31:32, to cite just one example), God likens His relationship with His people to that between a husband and wife. Idolatry is spiritual unfaithfulness in the same way that adultery is physical unfaithfulness, and warranted the same penalty.
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