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Bible Commentaries

Adam Clarke Commentary

Leviticus 20

Verse 1

CHAPTER XX

Of giving seed to Molech, and the punishment of this crime,

1-5.

Of consulting wizards, &c., 6-8.

Of disrespect to parents, 9.

Of adultery, 10.

Of incestuous mixtures, 11, 12.

Bestiality, 13-16.

Different cases of incest and uncleanness, 17-21.

Exhortations and promises, 22-24.

The difference between clean and unclean animals to be

carefully observed, 25.

The Israelites are separated from other nations, that they may

be holy, 26.

A repetition of the law against wizards and them that have

familiar spirits, 27.

NOTES ON CHAP. XX

Verse 2

Verse Leviticus 20:2. That giveth any of his seed unto Molech — To what has been said in the note on Leviticus 18:21, we may add, that the rabbins describe this idol, who was probably a representative or emblematical personification of the solar influence, as made of brass, in the form of a man, with the head of an ox; that a fire was kindled in the inside, and the child to be sacrificed to him was put in his arms, and roasted to death. Others say that the idol, which was hollow, was divided into seven compartments within; in one of which they put flour, in the second turtle-doves, in the third a ewe, in the fourth a ram, in the fifth a calf, in the sixth an ox, and in the seventh a child, which, by heating the statue on the outside, were all burnt alive together. I question the whole truth of these statements, whether from Jewish or Christian rabbins. There is no evidence of all this in the sacred writings. And there is but presumptive proof, and that not very strong, that human sacrifices were at all offered to Molech by the Jews. The passing through the fire, so frequently spoken of, might mean no more than a simple rite of consecration to the service of this idol. Probably a kind of ordeal was meant, the persons passing suddenly through the flame of a large fire, by which, though they might be burnt or scorched, yet they were neither killed nor consumed. Or they might have passed between two large fires, as a sort of purification. Leviticus 20:14; and "Leviticus 18:21".

Caesar, in his history of the Gallic war, lib. vi., c. 16, mentions a custom of the Druids similar to this. They made an image of wickerwork, inclosed those in it whom they had adjudged to death, and, setting the whole on fire, all were consumed together.

Verse 6

Verse Leviticus 20:6. Familiar spiritsLeviticus 19:31; and "Exodus 22:18".

Verse 9

Verse Leviticus 20:9. Curseth his father or his motherGenesis 48:12, and "Exodus 20:12". He who conscientiously keeps the fifth commandment can be in no danger of this judgment. The term יקלל yekallel signifies, not only to curse, but to speak of a person contemptuously and disrespectfully, to make light of; so that all speeches which have a tendency to lessen our parents in the eyes of others, or to render their judgment, piety, c., suspected and contemptible, may be here included though the act of cursing, or of treating the parent with injurious and opprobrious language, is that which is particularly intended.

Verse 10

Verse Leviticus 20:10. Committeth adultery — To what has been said in Clarke's note on "Exodus 20:14", we may add, that the word adultery comes from the Latin adulterium, which is compounded of ad, to or with, and alter, another, or, according to Minshieu, of ad alterius forum, he that approaches to another man's bed.

Verse 12

Verse Leviticus 20:12. They have wrought confusion — See Leviticus 18:1-30, and especially Clarke's note on "Leviticus 18:6".

Verse 14

Verse Leviticus 20:14. They shall be burnt with fire — As there are worse crimes mentioned here, (see Leviticus 20:11 and Leviticus 20:17), where the delinquent is ordered simply to be put to death, or to be cut off, it is very likely that the crime mentioned in this verse was not punished by burning alive, but by some kind of branding, by which they were ever after rendered infamous. I need not add that the original, באש ישרפו baesh yishrephu, may, without violence to its grammatical meaning, be understood as above, though in other places it is certainly used to signify a consuming by fire. But the case in question requires some explanation; it is this: a man marries a wife, and afterward takes his mother-in-law or wife's mother to wife also: now for this offence the text says all three shall be burnt with fire, and this is understood as signifying that they shall be burnt alive. Now the first wife, we may safely presume, was completely innocent, and was legally married: for a man may take to wife the daughter if single, or the mother if a widow, and in neither of these cases can any blame attach to the man or the party he marries; the crime therefore lies in taking both. Either, therefore, they were all branded as infamous persons, and this certainly was severe enough in the case of the first wife; or the man and the woman taken last were burnt: but the text says, both he and they; therefore, we should seek for another interpretation of they shall be burnt with fire, than that which is commonly given. Branding with a hot iron would certainly accomplish every desirable end both for punishment and prevention of the crime; and because the Mosaic laws are so generally distinguished by humanity, it seems to be necessary to limit the meaning of the words as above.

Verse 16

Verse Leviticus 20:16. If a woman approach unto any beast — We have the authority of one of the most eminent historians in the world, Herodotus, to say that this was a crime not unknown in Egypt; yea, that a case of this nature actually took place while he was there. Εγενετο δ' εν τῳ νο μῳ τουτῳ επ' εμευ τουτο το τερας, Γυναικι Τραγος εμισγετο αναφανδον. Τουτο ες επιδειξιν ανθρωπων απικετο. - Herod. in Euterp., p. 108. Edit. Gale, Lond. 1679.

"In this district, within my own recollection, this portentous business took place: a goat coupled so publicly with a woman that every person knew it," c. After this, need we wonder that God should have made laws of this nature, when it appears these abominations were not only practised among the Egyptians, but were parts of a superstitious religious system? This one observation will account for many of those strange prohibitions which we find in the Mosaic law others, the reasons of which are not so plain, we should see the propriety of equally, had we ampler historic records of the customs that existed in that country.

Verse 22

Verse Leviticus 20:22. The land, whither I bring you to dwell therein, spue you not out. — See this energetic prosopopoeia explained in the note on Leviticus 18:25. From this we learn that the cup of the iniquities of the Canaanitish nations was full; and that, consistently with Divine justice, they could be no longer spared.

Verse 24

Verse Leviticus 20:24. A land that floweth with milk and honeySee this explained "Exodus 3:8".

Verse 25

Verse Leviticus 20:25. Between clean beasts and unclean — See the notes on Leviticus 11:1-47.

Verse 27

Verse Leviticus 20:27. A familiar spirit — A spirit or demon, which, by magical rites, is supposed to be bound to appear at the call of his employer. Genesis 41:8; Genesis 41:8; "Exodus 7:11"; "Exodus 7:22"; And see Clarke's notes "Exodus 7:25"; and "Leviticus 19:31".

FROM the accounts we have of the abominations both of Egypt and Canaan, we may blush for human nature; for wherever it is without cultivation, and without the revelation of God, it is every thing that is vile in principle and detestable in practice. Nor would any part of the habitable globe materially differ from Egypt and Canaan, had they not that rule of righteousness, the revealed LAW of God, and had not life and immortality been brought to light by the GOSPEL among them. From these accounts, for which we could easily find parallels in ancient Greece and Italy, we may see the absolute need of a Divine revelation, without which man, even in his best estate, differs little from the brute.

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Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Leviticus 20". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/leviticus-20.html. 1832.