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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 18

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-30


The underlying thought of this section is in the words of Leviticus 18:1-5 . Israel is redeemed and separated unto God, therefore, she is to live consistently with that fact in all her ways. She is not to do after the heathen peoples round about her.

THE QUESTION OF EATING (Leviticus 17:0 )

It looks as though the opening injunction of this chapter touched once more upon the ceremonial and recurred to a matter considered under the offerings. But in that case the design was to prevent idolatry in connection with worship, and here to prevent it in connection with the preparation of food. It is to be remembered also, that these regulations were for the tent life in the wilderness, and were afterward repealed in Deuteronomy 12:15-24 , were entering upon the settled habitation of Canaan.

The reasons for the prohibition of blood are clearly stated. It was the life of the flesh and the symbol of that life which was substituted for the guilty in making atonement.

As to the first, modern science is illustrating its wisdom in teaching that the germs of infectious disease circulate in the blood. As to the second, the

relation of the blood to the forgiveness of sins was thus always kept prominently before the mind of the people. There is a great lesson in this thought for us as well as them.


All sexual relationship is prohibited as between a man and his mother, stepmother, sister, granddaughter, stepsister, aunt, daughter-in-law, sister- in-law, a woman and her daughter or her granddaughter, a wife’s sister (while the wife is living), a woman at the time specified in Leviticus 18:19 , a neighbor’s wife, another man, a beast. The Canaanites did these things, which explains their expulsion from their land; and these things were also common with the Egyptians among whom the Israelites had lived.

A few comments follow. For example, the law forbidding such relationship with a brother’s wife (Leviticus 18:16 ), is qualified in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 , so far as to permit marriage with the widow of a deceased brother when the latter died without children, in order to perpetuate his family.

The reference to Molech in Leviticus 18:21 grows out of the connection between some of the licentious practices just mentioned and the worship of the heathen god (compare 2 Kings 17:31 ; Jeremiah 7:31 ; Jeremiah 19:5 ). In that worship children were slain like beasts and offered in sacrifice to their god.


It is difficult to generalize in chapter 19, which seems to contain repetitions of laws already dealt with in other connections.

Among these reference is again made to the Sabbath; the making of molten images; the eating of peace offerings; gleaning of the harvest for the poor; theft, perjury, oppression; the treatment of the blind and deaf; fairness in judgment; talebearing; revenge, hybridity; carnal connection with bondwomen; uncircumcised fruit; enchantment; physical marks of idolatry; honoring the aged, etc.

The first three have to do with reverence for God. The next series, having regard to the poor, was not only a protest against natural selfishness, but an intimation that the land did not belong to the human occupant but to God, and that its husbandman was merely His steward.

In several verses following, God still speaks on behalf of the weak and defenseless, but ere long balances the subject by showing that the rich are no more to be wronged than the poor.

Reaching the middle of the chapter, the commands concerning hybridity among cattle and in the vegetable kingdom are sufficiently clear, but that about the mingling of stuffs in our garments is not. Perhaps this whole section of laws is to cultivate reverence for the order established in nature by God, nature itself being a manifestation of God. In this case the precept about garments would be a symbolic reminder of the duty to a large class who did not so frequently come in contact with the other reminders referred to.

In verses 20-22 we come upon what seems a divine approval of concubinage and slavery, but we are to remember the explanation of it in Matthew 19:8 .

The uncircumcised fruit (v. 23-25) is as interesting a feature as any in the chapter. The explanation is in the law that the first-fruit always belongs to God. But it must be a perfect offering as well as the first-fruit, and this is not usually true of the fruit of a young tree. During the first three years of its life it is regarded as analogous to the life of a child uncircumcised or unconsecrated to the Lord. It is not until the fourth that its fruit becomes sufficiently perfected to offer unto God, and not until after that is it to be partaken of by the Israelite himself.

The reference to the trimming of the hair and beard is explained by the fact that among heathen peoples to do so visibly marks one as of a certain religion or the worshipper of a certain god. Today certain orders in the Roman Catholic Church are indicated in this manner. But the Israelite was not only to worship God alone, but to avoid even the appearance of worshipping another.


1. To what do the contents of these chapters relate?

2. Why was blood prohibited in eating?

3. In what way does God claim ownership of the land of Israel?

4. How does He defend the rich as well as the poor?

5. Can you quote Matthew 19:8 ?

6. What is the meaning of uncircumcised fruit?

7. To what does the trimming of the hair and beard refer?


Before pursuing these lessons further we would pause to point out their application to the Christian, and how he should make use of them for his spiritual advancement and God’s glory in this sinful world.

Brooke will once more be our guide:

In chapters 1-10 there is revealed what God is, and does, and gives to His people, but in chapters 11-22 we have what His people should be and do for Him. The first half of these latter chapters, 11-16, show that the life of God’s people is to be clean, while the second half, chapter 17 to practically the close of the book, shows how it is to be holy. There is a difference between the two ideas represented by “clean” and “holy” (2 Corinthians 7:1 ).

The word “clean,” together with “unclean,” “purify” and their derivatives, comes from two Hebrew roots, occurring in the sixth chapter over 164 times, thus showing the emphasis God puts upon the thought they express, and impressing us with the fact that a line of separation must be drawn between those who are God’s people through redemption by the blood, and those who are not.

But we are taught that only God Himself can indicate what this line of separation is. Only He can say what is fit and what unfit for His people to think, and be, and do. This is New Testament as well as Old Testament teaching (Philippians 1:9-11 ), and means much more than the broad distinction between right and wrong. The people of the world know what these distinctions are, and for worldly reasons endeavor more or less to maintain them; but the people of God know the mind of God, and are expected to follow it in details of which the world is ignorant.

We learn how communion with God may be hindered or promoted by things otherwise exceedingly small, like eating and drinking (1 Corinthians 10:31 ), the way we dress, or keep our dwellings, the physical condition of our bodies, and the like. There are many questions of casuistry, which the full-grown Christian recognizes as essential in order to walk with God, of which other people know nothing. (Compare Deuteronomy 14:21 ; 1Co 2:14 ; 1 Corinthians 10:23 ; Ephesians 5:17 ; 2 Timothy 2:4 .) The Christian cannot say, “I may do this for others do it.” The “others” may not be redeemed and separated unto God, and hence he must leave the doubtful things to them “who claim not royal birth” and “come out from among them and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18 ).

Our author distinguishes between the first half of this section of the book, chapters 11-16, and the latter half, 17-22, by speaking of the latter as presenting on the positive what the former presents on the negative side. In illustrating the thought from the New Testament point of view he uses 2 Corinthians 7:1 : “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

The two phrases “cleanse” and “perfecting holiness” are in different tenses in the Greek. The former is in the aorist, and marks a definite action, something done once for all; but the latter is in the present tense, and implies a continuous line of conduct. When we are bidden to “cleanse ourselves,” it means that everything marked by God as unclean is to be at once and forever put away; but when we are bidden to be perfect in holiness a lifelong course of action and conduct is in mind.

Reverend Brooke helps us to understand this by his definition of “holiness,’’ which in its primary sense does not mean supereminent piety but “the relationship existing between God and a consecrated thing.” It is in this sense we read of a holy day, a holy place, or a holy animal.

But as soon as this title is given to anyone or anything, the power of it is supposed to begin to work, that is, it immediately demands altered usage or conduct harmonizing with the new relationship to God into which it is brought. As applied to human beings, it is an instant summons to a new line of conduct, and thus passes into the meaning of practical piety. He uses this illustration: If one were rebuking a peer for unworthy conduct he might say, “You are a nobleman; you ought to be a noble man.” In this sense Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians 5:7 : “Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened.”

These chapters therefore (17-22), bring into startling prominence the breadth and depth of the idea of holiness as God conceives of it. It concerns the table of God’s people, the home, and all their social and business relationships.

It is only as we realize this idea of holiness, and how far we are separated from it by our old nature, that we can appreciate the significance of the Day of Atonement and the place its revelation occupies in this book (chap. 16). The other chapters preceding and following that revelation raised the question, Who can be clean before God? We perceive that, notwithstanding what provisions we make or precautions we take, we can never be sure that no spot of uncleanness remains, or that the conditions for communion with God are fulfilled. Only God can be sure of this, or make us sure, but that assurance is what chapter 16 in its typical aspect is intended to provide.

Once a year, and on that day, “all the iniquities of Israel, and all their transgressions, in all their sins” were completely removed, and atonement made for every uncleanness. The prototype of this we find in the person and work of our blessed Lord, whose grace is sufficient for us, and whose blood cleanseth us from all sin.


1. Why is the standard of righteousness for God’s people different from the world’s?

2. Name some of the little things which may affect the saint’s communion with God.

3. Quote 2 Corinthians 7:1 .

4. How would you define holiness?

5. Quote 1 Corinthians 5:7 .

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Leviticus 18". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/leviticus-18.html. 1897-1910.
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