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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Leviticus 18

Verse 1

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 2-4

Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the LORD your God.

I am the Lord your God. This renewed mention of the divine sovereignty over the Israelites was intended to bear particularly on some laws that were widely different from the social customs that obtained both in Egypt and Canaan; because the enormities which the laws enumerated in this chapter were intended to put down were freely practiced or publicly sanctioned in both of those countries; and, indeed, the extermination of the ancient Canaanites is described as owing to the abominations with which they had polluted the land.

Verse 5

Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.

Which if a man do, he shall live in them. A special blessing was promised to the Israelites on condition of their obedience to the divine law; and this promise was remarkably verified at particular eras of their history, when pure and undefiled religion prevailed among them, in the public prosperity and domestic happiness enjoyed by them as a people. Obedience to the divine law always, indeed, ensures temporal advantages; and this, doubtless, was the primary meaning of the words, "which if a man do, he shall live in them." That they bad a higher reference to spiritual life is evident from the application made of them by our Lord (Luke 10:28) and the apostle (Romans 10:5).

Verse 6

None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD.

None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin, [ 'iysh (H376) 'iysh (H376) ... lo' (H3808) tiqrªbuw (H7126)] - no man of you shall approach in conjugal connection (Leviticus 18:14; Genesis 20:4; Deuteronomy 22:14; Isaiah 8:3; Ezekiel 18:6). [ lªgalowt (H1540) `erwaah (H6172), to have sexual intercourse (Genesis 4:1; Deuteronomy 22:30). These two phrases, the last of which is exegetical of the former, are synonymous: shª'eer (H7607) bªsaarow (H1320), flesh by (of) flesh - i:e., blood-relations.] This is a general law, prohibitory of all incestuous alliances, and it is expressed in terms sufficiently explicit to have superseded the necessity of entering into details. But in legislating for a people low in the scale of moral perception a minute specification of the permissive limits was needed; and hence, this summary, though comprehending in itself the following details, was expounded by an enumeration of the degrees within which every kind of sexual intercourse-particularly that of marriage-was absolutely forbidden. These injunctions are, without exception, addressed to men.

Very great laxity prevailed among the Egyptians in their sentiments and practice about the conjugal relation, as they not only openly sanctioned marriages between brothers and sisters, but even between parents and children. Such unnatural alliances Moses wisely prohibited; and his laws form the basis on which the marriage regulations of this and other Christian nations are chiefly founded.

Verses 7-8

The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.

The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother - [wª-, which is rendered "or", means here, "namely", that is, "to wit"; for the last clause of the verse clearly shows that the interdicted incest is with a mother; and, besides, to uncover the nakedness of a man, when the act is done by the hand of another, denotes invariably, in the Scripture use of the phrase, to uncover the nakedness of his wife (Leviticus 18:14; Leviticus 18:16; Leviticus 20:11; Leviticus 20:20-21)], Thus interpreted, the law prohibits the marriage of a son with his mother, whether she be his own or his stepmother (cf. Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:4; 1 Corinthians 5:1). This revolting custom, which prevailed among the ancient Egyptians and Canaanites, as well as other Pagan nations, continued to linger among the Persians even after the commencement of the Christian era, (Theodoret, 'Quaest.' 24:)

Verse 9

The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover.

The nakedness of thy sister ... - i:e., the child of either of thy parents, whether thy full sister or a stepsister, born in the same or in another family. The circumstantial minuteness in relation to her birth, as sprung from the same parentage or a second marriage, in wedlock or out of wedlock, was designed to remove all doubt as to the unlawfullness of a connection which, through the corruptions of pagan antiquity, had become very common (Genesis 20:12) (Diodorus, 'Hist.,' 1:, 27), and in Egypt was legalized. Pausanias relates that Ptolemy Philadelphus married his sister ('Attica,' 1:, 7; cf. Philo, 'De Spec. Legg.,' p. 180; Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egypt.,' vol. 2:, p. 63). Jerome affirms that the practice obtained also among the Medes, Ethiopians, and Indians. Euripides, in Andromeda, alluding to the marriage customs of many barbarous nations, gives his testimony to the existence of the practice in question; and that it should have become prevalent cannot be wondered at, when it is remembered that the worshippers were only imitating the conduct of their deities-such as, in Egyptian mythology, Isis and Osiris, and in Greek, Jupiter and Juno, who are described:

` Jovisque Et sorer, et conjux.' (-Virgil, 'AEneis,' 1:, 50.)

Verse 10

The nakedness of thy son's daughter, or of thy daughter's daughter, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover: for theirs is thine own nakedness. The nakedness of thy son's daughter, or of thy daughter's daughter. The reason assigned for prohibition in these cases is, that the parties are one's own flesh and blood.

Verse 11

The nakedness of thy father's wife's daughter, begotten of thy father, she is thy sister, thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.

The nakedness of thy father's wife's daughter, begotten of thy father. Since it seems not very probable that an enactment so nearly resembling that mentioned, Leviticus 18:9, would, in so brief a table of marriage laws, be repeated, the presumption is, that this refers to the daughter of a family reared up by a deceased father's brother, who, according to the levirate law (Deuteronomy 25:5), espoused the widow, whose children by him were reckoned her former husband's; and so close a kindred was established between the two branches that a marriage between a son of the one and a daughter of the other was prohibited as an incestuous connection. The persons "near of kin" with whom it is declared (Leviticus 18:6) unlawful to marry are specified (Leviticus 18:7-17) to be:

(1) Those in the first (Leviticus 18:7) and second (Leviticus 18:10), or collaterals in the first (Leviticus 18:9; Leviticus 18:11; Leviticus 18:17) and second (Leviticus 18:12-13), degrees of consanguinity;

(2) Those in the first (Leviticus 18:8; Leviticus 18:15; Leviticus 18:17) and second (Leviticus 18:17), or collaterals in the first (Leviticus 18:16) and second (Leviticus 18:14), degrees of affinity.

Though there may be some possible connections not specifically described, it can be easily inferred from those that are instanced, whether they are lawful or forbidden; as, for instance, when it is said (Leviticus 18:7), man may not marry his mother, a daughter on similar ground cannot be married to her father; or (Leviticus 18:13) a man may not marry his aunt, it follows, by parity of reason, that a woman may not marry her uncle (Selden, 'De Uxore. Heb.;' Dwight's 'Hebrew Wife').

In the primeval age of the world there was a necessity for brothers and sisters to marry; and in patriarchal times, when the marriage law was not authoritatively defined, great latitude was allowed in forming the tie between husband and wife (see the notes at Genesis 20:12; Genesis 29:21-30; and at Exodus 6:20). But on the establishment of the Mosaic economy, not only was this liberty restricted, but a boundary line strictly drawn, which no one, without incurring severe penalties, could overpass. This code became the marriage law in Israel; and there can be no doubt that in raising a fence around the honour and rights of the female sex it tended to elevate the tone of domestic and social morality among that people.

Verses 12-16

Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's sister: she is thy father's near kinswoman. No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 17

Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, neither shalt thou take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness.

It is wickedness, [ zimaah (H2154)] - crime in general, but especially crime of impurity in aggravated circumstances, such as are described in this chapter (cf. Leviticus 19:29; Ezekiel 16:27; Ezekiel 22:9; Ezekiel 22:11).

Verse 18

Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.

Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister ... in her life-time, [ 'ishaah (H802) 'el (H413) 'ªchotaah (H269)] - one wife to her sister. This passage has been interpreted in two very different and indeed opposite ways: One class of commentators, taking the words in an idiomatic sense, consider the law a prohibition of polygamy-`Neither shalt thou take one wife to another.' Another, accepting the words in their natural meaning-`Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister'-view the statute as forbidding an imitation of Jacob in marrying two sisters, and understand it thus: 'Thou shalt not marry the sister of thy present wife, to vex her in her life-time; although thou mayest take a stranger, and even her sister on her decease.'

The subject has provoked much discussion, and, whether viewed as a question of Scriptural interpretation or of social polity, is of great interest and importance. Among commentators, Poole, Dwight, and Chalmers ('Daily Scripture Readings') espouse the former opinion, while Dr. Patrick, Henry, Scott, and Adam Clarke support the latter. We believe that the marginal reading is the true one, and that this statute does not bear upon the quoestio vexata of marriage with a deceased wife's sister. Whatever arguments may be adduced as to the lawfulness or unlawfulness, the expediency or inexpediency of such a matrimonial relation, the passage before us cannot, on sound principles of criticism, be enlisted in the service; because it forms part of a context which enumerates various crimes to be sternly interdicted, among which was the contemporary practice of marrying two sisters. (In the copious literature produced by the recent agitation of this question in Britain and America, the following works may be mentioned as the most valuable: Professor Bush's 'Notes on Leviticus,' in which the question, owing to the interest it has excited in America, is treated at great length; 'Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister, including an Examination of Professor Bush's Notes,' by J.F. Denham, 8vo, pp. 60; also Denham's article, 'Marriage,' in Kitto's 'Biblical Cyclopaedia;' 'Hebrew Wife,' by

S.E. Dwight, of the American Bar; 'Enquiry into the Christian Law as to the Relationships which bar Marriage,' by William Lingsay, D.D., Professor of Sacred Languages and Biblical Criticism in the United Presbyterian Church, 1855,12 mo, pp. 230, particularly ch. 8:, entitled, 'The textual rendering of Leviticus 18:18 shown to be preferable to the marginal one;' 'The Men of Glasgow and the Women of Scotland: Reasons for Differing from the Dr. Symington's View of the Levitical Marriage Law,' by Thomas Binney, London, 8vo; Archdeacon Hare's 'Notes to his Annual Charge,' 1850; 'Domestic Life in Palestine,' by Mary Eliza Rogers: 'Report of the Arguments of Counsel and of the Judgments of Lord Denman and the other Judges of the Court of Queen's Bench, in the case of the Queen versus Chadwick (in error), in Michaelmas Term, 1847,' by James Cock Evans, Esq., of Lincoln's Inn, Barrister-at-Law, 8vo, pp. 30, London; 'Facts and Opinions tending to show the Scriptural Lawfulness of Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister,' Marriage Law Reform Association, London.)

Verses 19-20

Also thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 21

And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

Thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass ... Molech, or Moloch, which signifies 'king,' was the idol of the Ammonites. His proper name was Chemosh. His Egyptian correspondent, or rather substitute, was Amun, or Amun-Ra [ Molek (H4432)], 'the king of the gods' (Corbaux). His statue was of brass, and rested on a pedestal or throne of the same metal. His head, resembling that of a calf, was adorned with a crown, and his arms were extended in the attitude of embracing those who approached him. His devotees dedicated their children to him; and when this was to be done, they heated the statue to a high pitch of intensity by a fire within; and then the infants were either shaken over the flames or passed through the ignited arms-a symbolical rite expressive of dedication or lustration to ensure the favour of the pretended deity. The fire-worshippers asserted that all children who did not undergo this purifying process would die in infancy; and the influence of this Zabian superstition was still so extensively prevalent in the days of Moses that the Divine Lawgiver judged it necessary to prohibit it by an express statute. This was the early form of the crime which afterward assumed a horrid and unnatural aspect (see the notes at Leviticus 20:2-4). A similar superstition prevailed among the ancient Indians (Sonnerat's 'Travels,' vol 1:, p. 154).

Neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God - by giving it to false or pretended divinities; or, perhaps, from this precept standing in close connection with the worship of Molech, the meaning rather is-do not, by devoting your children to him, give foreigners occasion to blaspheme the name of your God as a cruel and sanguinary deity, who demands the sacrifice of human victims, and who encourages cruelty in his votaries.

Verse 22

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

Thou shalt not lie with mankind ... - (cf. Judges 19:1-30; Romans 1:27; 1 Corinthians 6:9.) The existence of such horrid practices is thus attested by the authority of an apostle. From profane history we learn that this crime was naturalized among the ancient Canaanites, and like a poisonous weed, which baffles all attempts to eradicate it, the degrading vice of Sodomy is still perpetuated in many cities in Syria (Vere Monro's 'Summer Ramble,' vol. 2:, pp. 87, 88).

Verse 23

Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.

Neither shalt thou lie with any beast ... Such abominations were connected with the animal worship of Egypt (see 'Diodorus,' 1:, 85: 'Herodotus,' b. 2:, ch. 46:: and though Wilkinson and others have laboured to palliate or, deny the charge, the testimony of the Greek historians is fully substantiated (cf. Dollinger, pp. 226, 227).

Verses 24-30

Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you:

In all these the nations are defiled ... Ancient history gives many appalling proofs that the enormous vices described in this chapter were very prevalent-nay, were regularly practiced from religious motives in the temples of Egypt and the groves of Canaan; and it was these gigantic social disorders that occasioned the expulsion of which the Israelites were, in the hands of a righteous and retributive Providence, the appointed instruments (Genesis 15:16). The strongly figurative language of 'the land itself vomiting out her inhabitants,' as the stomach disgorges a deadly poison, shows the hopeless depth of their moral corruption.

Verse 30. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance. In giving the Israelites these particular institutions, God was only re-delivering the law imprinted on the natural heart of man; because there is every reason to believe that the incestuous alliances and unnatural crimes prohibited in this chapter were forbidden to all men by a law expressed or understood from the beginning of the world, or at least from the era of the flood; since God threatens to condemn and punish, in a manner so sternly severe, these atrocities in the practice of the Canaanites and their neighbours, who were not subject to the laws of the Hebrew nation, (cf. 'Hebrew Wife:' pp. 123-125; Graves, 'Lectures on the Pentateuch,' 2:, pp. 49-52; Dr. Watson's 'Apology for the Bible,' Letter

i., p. 9; Paley's 'Sermons on Several Subjects,' Sermon 29:)

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Leviticus 18". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/leviticus-18.html. 1871-8.