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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 19

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament CommentaryKeil & Delitzsch

Verse 1

Holiness of Behaviour Towards God and Man. - However manifold the commandments, which are grouped together rather according to a loose association of ideas than according to any logical arrangement, they are all linked together by the common purpose expressed in Leviticus 19:2 in the words, “ Ye shall be holy, for I am holy, Jehovah your God.” The absence of any strictly logical arrangement is to be explained chiefly from the nature of the object, and the great variety of circumstances occurring in life which no casuistry can fully exhaust, so that any attempt to throw light upon these relations must consist more or less of the description of a series of concrete events.

Verses 2-8

The commandment in Leviticus 19:2, “to be holy as God is holy,” expresses on the one hand the principle upon which all the different commandments that follow were based, and on the other hand the goal which the Israelites were to keep before them as the nation of Jehovah.

Leviticus 19:3

The first thing required is reverence towards parents and the observance of the Lord's Sabbaths-the two leading pillars of the moral government, and of social well-being. To fear father and mother answers to the honour commanded in the decalogue to be paid to parents; and in the observance of the Sabbaths the labour connected with a social calling is sanctified to the Lord God.

Leviticus 19:4

Leviticus 19:4 embraces the first two commandments of the decalogue: viz., not to turn to idols to worship them (Deuteronomy 31:18, Deuteronomy 31:20), nor to make molten gods (see at Exodus 34:17). The gods beside Jehovah are called elilim , i.e., nothings, from their true nature.

Leviticus 19:5-8

True fidelity to Jehovah was to be shown, so far as sacrifice, the leading form of divine worship, was concerned, in the fact, that the holiness of the sacrificial flesh was strictly preserved in the sacrificial meals, and none of the flesh of the peace-offerings eaten on the third day. To this end the command in Leviticus 7:15-18 is emphatically repeated, and transgressors are threatened with extermination. On the singular ישּׂא in Leviticus 19:8, see at Genesis 27:29, and for the expression “shall be cut off,” Genesis 17:14.

Verses 9-18

Laws concerning the conduct towards one's neighbour, which should flow from unselfish love, especially with regard to the poor and distressed.

Leviticus 19:9-10

In reaping the field, “thou shalt not finish to reap the edge of thy field,” i.e., not reap the field to the extreme edge; “neither shalt thou hold a gathering up (gleaning) of thy harvest,” i.e., not gather together the ears left upon the field in the reaping. In the vineyard and olive-plantation, also, they were not to have any gleaning, or gather up what was strewn about ( peret signifies the grapes and olives that had fallen off), but to leave them for the distressed and the foreigner, that he might also share in the harvest and gathering. כּרם , lit., a noble plantation, generally signifies a vineyard; but it is also applied to an olive-plantation (Judges 15:5), and her it is to be understood of both. For when this command is repeated in Deuteronomy 24:20-21, both vineyards and olive-plantations are mentioned. When the olives had been gathered by being knocked off with sticks, the custom of shaking the boughs ( פּאר ) to get at those olives which could not be reached with the sticks was expressly forbidden, in the interest of the strangers, orphans, and widows, as well as gleaning after the vintage. The command with regard to the corn-harvest is repeated again in the law for the feast of Weeks or Harvest Feast (Leviticus 23:20); and in Deuteronomy 24:19 it is extended, quite in the spirit of our law, so far as to forbid fetching a sheaf that had been overlooked in the field, and to order it to be left for the needy. (Compare with this Deuteronomy 23:24-25.)

Leviticus 19:11-13

The Israelites were not to steal (Exodus 20:15); nor to deny, viz., anything entrusted to them or found (Leviticus 6:2.); nor to lie to a neighbour, i.e., with regard to property or goods, for the purpose of overreaching and cheating him; nor to swear by the name of Jehovah to lie and defraud, and so profane the name of God (see Exodus 20:7, Exodus 20:16); nor to oppress and rob a neighbour (cf. Leviticus 6:2), by the unjust abstraction or detention of what belonged to him or was due to him, - for example, they were not to keep the wages of a day-labourer over night, but to pay him every day before sunset (Deuteronomy 24:14-15).

Leviticus 19:14

They were not to do an injury to an infirm person: neither to ridicule or curse the deaf, who could not hear the ridicule or curse, and therefore could not defend himself (Psalms 38:15); nor “to put a stumblingblock before the blind,” i.e., to put anything in his way over which he might stumble and fall (compare Deuteronomy 27:18, where a curse is pronounced upon the man who should lead the blind astray). But they were to “fear before God,” who hears, and sees, and will punish every act of wrong (cf. Leviticus 19:32, Leviticus 25:17, Leviticus 25:36, Leviticus 25:43).

Leviticus 19:15

In judgment, i.e., in the administration of justice, they were to do no unrighteousness: neither to respect the person of the poor ( πρόσωπον λαμβάνειν , to do anything out of regard to a person, used in a good sense in Genesis 19:21, in a bad sense here, namely, to act partially from unmanly pity); nor to adorn the person of the great (i.e., powerful, distinguished, exalted), i.e., to favour him in a judicial decision (see at Exodus 23:3).

Leviticus 19:16

They were not to go about as calumniators among their countrymen, to bring their neighbour to destruction (Ezekiel 22:9); nor to set themselves against the blood of a neighbour, i.e., to seek his life. רכיל does not mean calumny, but, according to its formation, a calumniator ( Ewald, §149 e).

Leviticus 19:17

They were not to cherish hatred in their hearts towards their brother, but to admonish a neighbour, i.e., to tell him openly what they had against him, and reprove him for his conduct, just as Christ teaches His disciples in Matthew 18:15-17, and “not to load a sin upon themselves.” חטא עליו נשׁא does not mean to have to bear, or atone for a sin on his account (Onkelos, Knobel, etc.), but, as in Leviticus 22:9; Numbers 18:32, to bring sin upon one's self, which one then has to bear, or atone for; so also in Numbers 18:22, חטא שׂאת , from which the meaning “to bear,” i.e., atone for sin, or suffer its consequences, was first derived.

Leviticus 19:18

Lastly, they were not to avenge themselves, or bear malice against the sons of their nation (their countrymen), but to love their neighbour as themselves. נטר to watch for (Song of Solomon 1:6; Song of Solomon 8:11, Song of Solomon 8:12), hence (= τηρεῖν ) to cherish a design upon a person, or bear him malice (Psalms 103:9; Jeremiah 3:5, Jeremiah 3:12; Nahum 1:2).

Verses 19-32

The words, “Ye shall keep My statutes,” open the second series of commandments, which make it a duty on the part of the people of God to keep the physical and moral order of the world sacred. This series begins in Leviticus 19:19 with the commandment not to mix the things which are separated in the creation of God. “Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with two kinds of seed, or put on a garment of mixed stuff.” כּלאים , from כּלא separation, signifies duae res diversi generis , heterogeneae, and is a substantive in the accusative, giving a more precise definition. שעטנז is in apposition to כּלאים בּגד , and according to Deuteronomy 22:11 refers to cloth or a garment woven of wool and flax, to a mixed fabric therefore. The etymology is obscure, and the rendering given by the lxx, κίβδηλον , i.e., forged, not genuine, is probably merely a conjecture based upon the context. The word is probably derived from the Egyptian; although the attempt to explain it from the Coptic has not been so far satisfactory. In Deuteronomy 22:9-11, instead of the field, the vineyard is mentioned, as that which they were not to sow with things of two kinds, i.e., so that a mixed produce should arise; and the threat is added, “that thy fulness (full fruit, Exodus 22:28), the seed, and the produce of the vineyard (i.e., the corn and wine grown upon the vineyard) may not become holy” (cf. Leviticus 27:10, Leviticus 27:21), i.e., fall to the sanctuary for its servants. It is also forbidden to plough with an ox and ass together, i.e., to yoke them to the same plough. By these laws the observance of the natural order and separation of things is made a duty binding upon the Israelites, the people of Jehovah, as a divine ordinance founded in the creation itself (Genesis 1:11-12, Genesis 1:21, Genesis 1:24-25). All the symbolical, mystical, moral, and utilitarian reasons that have been supposed to lie at the foundation of these commands, are foreign to the spirit of the law. And with regard to the observance of them, the statement of Josephus and the Rabbins, that the dress of the priests, as well as the tapestries and curtains of the tabernacle, consisted of wool and linen, is founded upon the assumption, which cannot be established, that שׁשׁ , βύσσος , is a term applied to linen. The mules frequently mentioned, e.g., in 2 Samuel 13:29; 2 Samuel 18:9; 1 Kings 1:33, may have been imported from abroad, as we may conclude from 1 Kings 10:25.

Leviticus 19:20-22

Even the personal rights of slaves were to be upheld; and a maid, though a slave, was not to be degraded to the condition of personal property. If any one lay with a woman who was a slave and betrothed to a man, but neither redeemed nor emancipated, the punishment of death was not to be inflicted, as in the case of adultery (Leviticus 20:10), or the seduction of a free virgin who was betrothed (Deuteronomy 22:23.), because she was not set free; but scourging was to be inflicted, and the guilty person was also to bring a trespass-offering for the expiation of his sin against God (see at Leviticus 5:15.). נחרפת , from חרף carpere , lit., plucked, i.e., set apart, betrothed to a man, not abandoned or despised. הפדּה redeemed, חפשׁה emancipation without purchase, - the two ways in which a slave could obtain her freedom. בּקּרת , ἁπ. λεγ. , from בּקּר to examine (Leviticus 13:36), lit., investigation, then punishment, chastisement. This referred to both parties, as is evident from the expression, “they shall not be put to death;” though it is not more precisely defined. According to the Mishnah, Kerith. ii. 4, the punishment of the woman consisted of forty stripes.

Leviticus 19:23-25

The garden-fruit was also to be sanctified to the Lord. When the Israelites had planted all kinds of fruit-trees in the land of Canaan, they were to treat the fruit of every tree as uncircumcised for the first three years, i.e., not to eat it, as being uncircumcised. The singular suffix in ערלתו refers to כּל , and the verb ערל is a denom. from ערלה , to make into a foreskin, to treat as uncircumcised, i.e., to throw away as unclean or uneatable. The reason for this command is not to be sought for in the fact, that in the first three years fruit-trees bear only a little fruit, and that somewhat insipid, and that if the blossom or fruit is broken off the first year, the trees will bear all the more plentifully afterwards ( Aben Esra, Clericus, J. D. Mich.), though this end would no doubt be thereby attained; but it rests rather upon ethical grounds. Israel was to treat the fruits of horticulture with the most careful regard as a gift of God, and sanctify the enjoyment of them by a thank-offering. In the fourth year the whole of the fruit was to be a holiness of praise for Jehovah, i.e., to be offered to the Lord as a holy sacrificial gift, in praise and thanksgiving for the blessing which He had bestowed upon the fruit-trees. This offering falls into the category of first-fruits, and was no doubt given up entirely to the Lord for the servants of the altar; although the expression הלּוּלים עשׂה (Judges 9:27) seems to point to sacrificial meals of the first-fruits, that had already been reaped: and this is the way in which Josephus has explained the command ( Ant. iv. 8, 19). For (Leviticus 19:25) they were not to eat the fruits till the fifth year, “to add (increase) its produce to you,” viz., by the blessing of God, not by breaking off the fruits that might set in the first years.

Leviticus 19:26-32

The Israelites were to abstain from all unnatural, idolatrous, and heathenish conduct.

Leviticus 19:26

“Ye shall not eat upon blood” ( על as in Exodus 12:8, referring to the basis of the eating), i.e., no flesh of which blood still lay at the foundation, which was not entirely cleansed from blood (cf. 1 Samuel 14:32). These words were not a mere repetition of the law against eating blood (Leviticus 17:10), but a strengthening of the law. Not only were they to eat no blood, but no flesh to which any blood adhered. They were also “to practise no kind of incantations.” נחשׁ : from נחשׁ to whisper (see Genesis 44:5), or, according to some, a denom. verb from נחשׁ a serpent; literally, to prophesy from observing snakes, then to prophesy from auguries generally, augurari . עונן a denom. verb, not from ענן a cloud, with the signification to prophesy from the motion of the clouds, of which there is not the slightest historical trace in Hebrew; but, as the Rabbins maintain, from עין an eye, literally, to ogle, then to bewitch with an evil eye.

Leviticus 19:27

Ye shall not round the border of your head: ” i.e., not cut the hair in a circle from one temple to the other, as some of the Arab tribes did, according to Herodotus (3, 8), in honour of their god Ὀροτάλ , whom he identifies with the Dionysos of the Greeks. In Jeremiah 9:25; Jeremiah 25:23; Jeremiah 49:32, the persons who did this are called פאה קצוּצי , round-cropped, from their peculiar tonsure. “ Neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard, ” sc., by cutting it off (cf. Leviticus 21:5), which Pliny reports some of the Arabs to have done, barba abraditur, praeterquam in superiore labro, aliis et haec intonsa , whereas the modern Arabs either wear a short moustache, or shave off the beard altogether (Niebuhr, Arab. p. 68).

Leviticus 19:28

Ye shall not make cuttings on your flesh (body) on account of a soul, i.e., a dead person ( נפשׁ = מת נפשׁ , Leviticus 21:11; Numbers 6:6, or מת , Deuteronomy 14:1; so again in Leviticus 22:4; Numbers 5:2; Numbers 9:6-7, Numbers 9:10), nor make engraven (or branded) writing upon yourselves.” Two prohibitions of an unnatural disfigurement of the body. The first refers to passionate outbursts of mourning, common among the excitable nations of the East, particularly in the southern parts, and to the custom of scratching the arms, hands, and face (Deuteronomy 14:1), which is said to have prevailed among the Babylonians and Armenians ( Cyrop. iii. 1, 13, iii. 3, 67), the Scythians ( Herod. 4, 71), and even the ancient Romans (cf. M. Geier de Ebraeor. luctu, c. 10), and to be still practised by the Arabs ( Arvieux Beduinen, p. 153), the Persians ( Morier Zweite Reise, p. 189), and the Abyssinians of the present day, and which apparently held its ground among the Israelites notwithstanding the prohibition (cf. Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 41:5; Jeremiah 47:5), - as well as to the custom, which is also forbidden in Leviticus 21:5 and Deuteronomy 14:1, of cutting off the hair of the head and beard (cf. Isaiah 3:24; Isaiah 22:12; Micah. Leviticus 1:16; Amos 8:10; Ezekiel 7:18). It cannot be inferred from the words of Plutarch, quoted by Spencer, δοκοῦντες χαρίζεσθαι τοῖς τετελευκηκόσιν , that the heathen associated with this custom the idea of making an expiation to the dead. The prohibition of קעקע כּתבת , scriptio stigmatis , writing corroded or branded (see Ges. thes. pp. 1207-8), i.e., of tattooing, - a custom not only very common among the savage tribes, but still met with in Arabia ( Arvieux Beduinen, p. 155; Burckhardt Beduinen, pp. 40, 41) and in Egypt among both men and women of the lower orders ( Lane, Manners and Customs i. pp. 25, 35, iii. p. 169), - had no reference to idolatrous usages, but was intended to inculcate upon the Israelites a proper reverence for God's creation.

Leviticus 19:29

Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore, lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of vice ” ( zimmah : see Leviticus 18:17). The reference is not to spiritual whoredom or idolatry (Exodus 34:16), but to fleshly whoredom, the word zimmah being only used in this connection. If a father caused his daughter to become a prostitute, immorality would soon become predominant, and the land (the population of the land) fall away to whoredom.

Leviticus 19:30

The exhortation now returns to the chief point, the observance of the Lord's Sabbaths and reverence for His sanctuary, which embrace the true method of divine worship as laid down in the ritual commandments. When the Lord's day is kept holy, and a holy reverence for the Lord's sanctuary lives in the heart, not only are many sins avoided, but social and domestic life is pervaded by the fear of God and characterized by chasteness and propriety.

Leviticus 19:31

True fear of God, however, awakens confidence in the Lord and His guidance, and excludes all superstitious and idolatrous ways and methods of discovering the future. This thought prepares the way for the warning against turning to familiar spirits, or seeking after wizards. אוב denotes a departed spirit, who was called up to make disclosures with regard to the future, hence a familiar spirit, spiritum malum qui certis artibus eliciebatur ut evocaret mortuorum manes, qui praedicarent quae ab eis petebantur ( Cler.). This is the meaning in Isaiah 29:4, as well as here and in Leviticus 20:6, as is evident from Leviticus 20:27, “a man or woman in whom is an ob ,” and from 1 Samuel 28:7-8, baalath ob , “a woman with such a spirit.” The name was then applied to the necromantist himself, by whom the departed were called up (1 Samuel 28:3; 2 Kings 23:24). The word is connected with ob , a skin. ידּעני , the knowing, so to speak, “clever man” ( Symm. γνώστης , Aq. γνωριστής ), is only found in connection with ob , and denotes unquestionably a person acquainted with necromancy, or a conjurer who devoted himself to the invocation of spirits. (For further remarks, see as 1 Samuel 28:7.).

Leviticus 19:32

This series concludes with the moral precept, “ Before a hoary head thou shalt rise up (sc., with reverence, Job 29:8), and the countenance (the person) of the old man thou shalt honour and fear before thy God.” God is honoured in the old man, and for this reason reverence for age is required. This virtue was cultivated even by the heathen, e.g., the Egyptians ( Herod. 2, 80), the Spartans ( Plutarch), and the ancient Romans ( Gellius, ii. 15). It is still found in the East ( Lane, Sitten und Gebr. ii. p. 121).

Verses 33-34

A few commandments are added of a judicial character. - Leviticus 19:33, Leviticus 19:34. The Israelite was not only not to oppress the foreigner in his land (as had already been commanded in Exodus 22:20 and Exodus 23:9), but to treat him as a native, and love him as himself.

Verses 35-36

As a universal rule, they were to do no wrong in judgment (the administration of justice, Leviticus 19:15), or in social intercourse and trade with weights and measures of length and capacity; but to keep just scales, weights, and measures. On ephah and hin, see at Exodus 16:36 and Exodus 29:40. In the renewal of this command in Deuteronomy 25:13-16, it is forbidden to carry “stone and stone” in the bag, i.e., two kinds of stones (namely, for weights), large and small; or to keep two kinds of measures, a large one for buying and a small one for selling; and full (unadulterated) and just weight and measure are laid down as an obligation. This was a command, the breach of which was frequently condemned (Proverbs 16:11; Proverbs 20:10, Proverbs 20:23; Amos 8:5; Micah 6:10, cf. Ezekiel 45:10).

Verse 37

Concluding exhortation, summing up all the rest.

Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Leviticus 19". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kdo/leviticus-19.html. 1854-1889.
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