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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Leviticus 20

Verse 1

1. And the Lord spake. The prohibition of this superstition was previously expounded in its proper place. God here commands the punishment to be inflicted, if any one should have polluted himself with it. And surely it was a detestable sacrilege to enslave to idols that offspring, which was begotten to God, and which He had adopted in the loins of Abraham, since in this way they not only despoiled God of His right, but, so far as they could, blotted out the grace of adoption. What He had then generally pronounced, He now specially applies, viz., that they should be stoned who offered their seed to Molech; for otherwise they would have tried to escape on the pretense that they had no intention of revolting to other gods. Just as now-a-days, under the Papacy, whatever is alleged from Scripture against their impious and corrupt worship, is coldly and contemptuously received; because they varnish over their idolatries, and so indulge themselves in them in security. But after God has commanded His judges to punish this crime severely, He at the same time declares that, if perchance they should connive at it, and encourage it by their lenity, He Himself will avenge it, so as to punish much more heavily those who may have escaped from the hands of men; and not only so, but that He would implicate all those who might have been aware of it in the same con-detonation.

Verse 11

Nothing new occurs here, for the object of Moses was, by the enactment of penalties, to sanction the instruction lately given. By previously condemning incestuous marriages, he would cite the Israelites before God, in order that their consciences might abhor the crime, although he gave them nothing to fear from earthly judges; whereas now he alarms them by the dread of punishment, in case any should indulge themselves with too great security. He does not chastise the incestuous with rods, as if they were only guilty of a light offense; but he pronounces it to be a capital crime, if any had sinned against the law of nature; and first he condemns the step-mother and step-son to death, if they should have had connection with each other; he then makes the same decree with reference to the father-in-law and daughter-in-law; and, thirdly, the step-father and step-daughter. But when, if a man cohabits at the same time with a mother and her daughter, he extends the punishment to the mother also, it must be understood, provided she also consents to the abominable medley; for, if a man, against the mother’s will, seduces her daughter, and the mother is unable to resist it if she would, she is free from guilt. The same punishment is awarded to brother and sister, and nephew and aunt, and it is extended also to affinity; if any should cohabit with the wife of his uncle or his brother. We have elsewhere explained the meaning of the expression, “their blood shall be upon them;” i. e. , that the cause of their death is to be imputed to none but the gross criminals themselves, lest their judges, under the cloak of humanity, should shrink from being severe, since it often happens that those who do not sufficiently weigh the atrocity of the evil, are led away by an empty show of clemency. (95) Moreover, Moses indirectly hints that if the guilty be pardoned, vengeance will be thus provoked against the whole people, since iniquity is fostered by impunity, until it bursts out like a deluge. The penalty of childlessness corresponds with the crime, for it is just that those should be exterminated in barrenness from the world, who have endeavored to corrupt the holy race of Abraham with their adulterous seed.

(95) “Sont ployables, et faciles a pardoner;” are pliable and easily disposed to pardon. — Fr.

Verse 13

13. If a man also (63) God had hitherto taught what was right, in order to restrain the people from sin, not only from fear of punishment, but for conscience’ sake. But whereas all do not voluntarily dispose themselves to obedience, the awards severe punishments to those wicked despisers in whom there is no effort to be religious. And it is astonishing that almost all the Gentiles have so sunk into stupid and brutal folly, that they have tolerated with little less than impunity unnatural crimes, detestable in their very name.

I admit that even the wickedest of them were ashamed to justify so gross a crime; but although it was practiced with impunity, it was a common reproach to make even against the very public tribunals, that it ought to be more severely punished than other crimes, which they did not spare.

Both of the offending parties were subjected to the same punishment, because it is a pollution which ought by no means to be borne. Nay, if a man or woman offend with a beast, in order that, all may the more abhor and beware of the unnatural crime, the penalty is extended even to the harmless animal; as we have before seen that a goring ox is condemned to death if it had killed a man. Hence we infer how greatly displeasing to God is this kind of crime, since its iniquity is confirmed by the death of guiltless animals.

(63) The Supplements of the Seventh Commandment are differently divided in the Fr. There is no such heading as “Judicial Supplements,” and this passage, as well as several others, is removed into a separate class, headed “Political Supplements.”

Verse 18

Leviticus 20:18

. And if a man shall lie (84) The enormity of the crime is seen by the severity of the punishment; and surely, when a man and woman abandon themselves to so disgraceful an act, it is plain that there are no remains of modesty in them. God, therefore, does not only regard the offense itself, but the brutal impulse of lust, whereby men are so carried away as to degenerate from the very feelings of nature. For what wickedness would he abstain from who yields to such impurity, that he breaks through an obstacle in his fury which restrains the brutes themselves? Let us not wonder, then, that God is a severe avenger of such obscenity.

This precept (85) has no other tendency than that believers should be kept far from all filthiness, and that chastity may flourish among them. It is indeed true that a woman, under these circumstances, is withheld from connection with a man by the very foulness of the disease, whilst there is also danger of contagion; but God rather chooses here to be an instructor in decency to His people, than to perform the office of a physician. It must be remembered, therefore, that men are warned against all indelicacy, which is abhorrent to the natural sense; and, by synecdoche, married persons are exhorted to restrain themselves from all immodest lasciviousness, and that the husband should enjoy his wife’s embraces with delicacy and propriety.

(84) This passage considered further on in Fr. , under the head of “Political Supplements.”

(85) This commentary is, in Fr. , appended to Leviticus 18:19, and included previously under the General Supplements of the Commandment.

Verse 22

22. Ye shall therefore keep all my statutes He now warns the Israelites, for the third time, not to imitate the Gentiles, and exhorts them to keep themselves within the limits of the Law. I have already pointed out that this was not done without reason, since otherwise they might have easily fallen away into the approval of their evil habits. Moreover, lest they should shake off God’s yoke, after He has said that the nations of Canaan were destroyed on account of similar abominations, He adds, that they were made the inheritors of the land on condition that they should separate themselves from heathen nations.

Verse 25

Leviticus 20:25

. Ye shall therefore put difference. I have no doubt but that this sentence depends on the end of the foregoing verse; for although that verse contains a reason to deter them from incest, of which he had been speaking, still it refers also to the doctrine before us, and stands in the shape of preface to it. In a word, it connects two things, for God here briefly declares His will, not only with respect to unlawful and improper intercourse, but also why He forbids His people to eat of unclean animals. Therefore He says, “I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people.” Whence it follows, that for no other reason were they prohibited from eating those animals, except that they thence may learn to take more diligent heed, and to withdraw themselves far from all the pollutions of the Gentiles. He had before recommended purity by various symbols, and now extends it even to the very animals. And this reason must be carefully marked, that the distinction between meats is propounded to them in order that they may study purity. For there would be something unmeaning in what is here said, if we did not know that this interdiction was imposed with this object, that they should not mix themselves promiscuously with the Gentiles. Therefore it is again repeated, that they were severed, that they might be God’s inheritance; and hence it is inferred, that holiness was to be cultivated by them, that they might conform themselves to the example of their God. Now it cannot be questioned, that the distinction of meats which is prescribed, is a supplement to the First Commandment, wherein the rule for worshipping God duly and purely is laid down; and thus religion is rescued from all admixtures of superstition.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Leviticus 20". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.