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Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Leviticus 18



Israelites not to live after the customs of the Egyptians or Canaanites, but according to God’s institutions, Leviticus 18:1-5. To abstain from incestuous marriages, Leviticus 18:6-18; and copulation with a menstruous woman, Leviticus 18:19; and adultery, Leviticus 18:20; and offering children to Moloch, Leviticus 18:21; and all unnatural copulation with man or beast, Leviticus 18:22,Leviticus 18:23.

These things the nations do; and the land is defied, and God is provoked; and they who do those things shall die: but God was their Lord, Leviticus 18:24-30.

Verse 2

Your Sovereign and Lawgiver. This is oft repeated here, because the things here forbidden were practised and allowed by the Gentiles, to whose custom he here opposeth Divine authority, and their obligation to obey his commands.

Verse 3

Egypt and Canaan: these two nations he mentions, because their habitation and conversation among them made their evil example in the following matters more dangerous. But under them he includes all other nations, as he elsewhere expresseth it. In their ordinances, or statutes; either because their laws did indeed allow such things, or because prevailing customs have the force of laws.

Verse 4

My judgments and mine ordinances; mine universally, Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10; for though the words be indefinite, the matter is necessary; and mine solely, Deuteronomy 6:13, compared with Matthew 4:10, and therefore those that here follow, though you do not see the particular reason of some of them, and though they be contrary to the laws and usages of the nations.

Verse 5

He shall live in them; not only happily here, but also eternally hereafter, as it is expounded Matthew 19:17; Romans 10:5. This is added as a powerful argument why they should follow God’s commands rather than men’s examples, because their life and happiness depends upon the one, not the other. And though in strictness, and according to the law or covenant of works, they could not challenge life for doing, except their obedience was universal, perfect, constant, and perpetual, and therefore no man since the fall could be justified by the law, as the apostle affirms and proves, Romans 4:0; Galatians 3:0; yet by the covenant of grace this life is promised to all that obey God’s commands sincerely, though not perfectly, 1 Timothy 4:8.

Verse 6

None, Heb. no man, For though the women also be bound by this law, yet the men alone are mentioned, both because they are most active in the choice of their yoke-fellows, and therefore most likely to transgress these laws, and because they having authority over the women, could have the greater influence upon them, by their power, counsel, or example, to oblige them either to the observation or violation of them.

Approach: this word signifies the conjugal act here, as it doth Genesis 20:4; Isaiah 8:3; but because it is ambiguous in itself, it is so limited and explained in the end of the verse.

To any that is near of kin to him: this is the general rule, which is particularly expounded and applied in the following instances. And these laws are so just and reasonable, that although the barbarous nations did allow of such incestuous marriages, yet wiser and civil heathens by the mere light of nature condemned them, as may be seen in Suetonius, Tacitus, Catullus, and others.

Their nakedness, i.e. their secret parts, so called to put us in mind of the fall of our first parents, whose first sense and shame of their nakedness had its rise from thence. This phrase notes the same thing with knowing, Genesis 4:1; and with discovering one’s skirt, Deuteronomy 22:30; Deuteronomy 27:20.

Verse 7

Of thy father, or of thy mother, Heb. and of thy mother, put for that is, or to wit, as it is oft used. Here it notes that the nakedness of the father, and the nakedness of the mother, are one and the same thing, because they two are one flesh, and therefore her nakedness is his also; which further appears, because the mother only is mentioned in the following words, which contain the reason of the law.

She is thy mother; and therefore even nature teacheth thee to abhor such incest. Yet the Persians used to marry their mother; therein worse than the very camels, whom no force will drive to that act with their dams.

Verse 8

i.e. Thy step-mother. Examples of this are Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:4; 1 Corinthians 5:1. It is thy father’s nakedness, by interest and relation; that which he only may uncover.

Verse 9

Thy sister, by both parents.

The daughter of thy father, or

daughter of thy mother; thy sister by either of thy parents.

Whether she be born at home, to wit, of thy father by another wife, whom he hath taken into his house. Or born abroad; either of thy mother, by another, whether a former or a second husband, in another house and family; or of thy father by some strange woman, for there might be some doubt in these cases.

Verse 10

And consequently of all thy children and children’s children, and all downwards; for they are a part of thyself, as coming out of thy loins, and out of thy wife, whose nakedness is thine own.

Verse 11

Begotten of thy father, or, being akin to thy father. He seems to speak of the daughter of the father’s brother by his wife, whom the father here spoken of, being brother to the deceased person, married by virtue of that law, Deuteronomy 25:5, by which marriage there was a near kindred contracted between the two families, so that the son of the one could not marry the daughter of the other. Thus this law is differing from that Leviticus 18:9. And that seems more probable, than that in so brief a table of laws the same thing should be forbidden both there and here.

Object. The word being the same here and Leviticus 18:9, must be understood in the same sense, and therefore here must be rendered begotten or born, as it is there.

Answ. It may be rendered there as well as here akin, as some render the words there of domestic, or of another, a foreign, kindred; and if the word had been participially put for begotten or born, it is likely the preposition mem or lamed would have been prefixed to the Hebrew word abicha, as is common in those cases.

Verse 12

Thy aunt by the father’s side, as the next verse speaks of the aunt by the mother’s side. If Amram’s example be alleged to the contrary, See Poole "Exodus 6:20".

Thy father’s near kinswoman, Heb. thy father’s flesh, a member and product of the same flesh from which thy father came.

Verse 14

Of thy father’s brother, i.e. of his wife, as the next words explain it. And as a man may not marry his aunt, so neither may a woman marry her uncle, there being altogether the same distance in kindred, and the selfsame reason of the law. And for the examples of Abraham, Amram, Othniel, &c., to the contrary, they were before the publication of this law, by which it pleased God to restrain the liberty allowed formerly, when the holy seed was in a narrower compass, and fewer persons, which altered the case. For in that regard there was a time when God allowed brethren and sisters to marry, to wit, when there were no other in the world, which was the case of Adam’s immediate children. We learn from hence that the same degrees are forbidden in consanguinity or kindred by blood, and in affinity or kindred by marriage.

She is thine aunt: some infer from hence that it is unlawful for cousin-germans, or the children of brethren and sisters, to marry. But there is not the same reason, nor the same degree of distance, for my uncle or aunt are nearer akin to me than their children are. Yet because it seems doubtful to many, and may hereafter prove occasion of grievous perplexities of mind, especially to tender and scrupulous consciences, Christian prudence directs us to choose the safest way, there being so great a latitude of unquestionable persons.

Verse 16

Neither in his lifetime, nor after his death, and therefore a woman might not marry her husband’s brother, nor might a man marry his wife’s sister, either before or after his wife’s death, for so all the prohibitions are to be understood; which will give light to Leviticus 18:18. But God, who can undoubtedly dispense with his own laws, did afterwards make one exception to this rule, of which see Deuteronomy 25:5.

Verse 17

Of a woman and her daughter, to wit, thy step-daughter, and so thy step-son’s daughter, &c.

It is wickedness; because they are very near to thy wife by consanguinity, as coming directly from her; and therefore they are as near to thee by affinity, which binds as much as consanguinity; the wife, who is only related by affinity, being nearer to a man than any other by consanguinity, they two being made one flesh, and therefore the same distance is to be observed in both of them.

Verse 18

The word

sister is here understood, either,

1. Properly, so some; whence others infer that it is lawful to marry one’s wife’s sister after the wife’s death. Or,

2. Improperly for any other woman, as not only persons, but things, of the same kind are oft called sisters and brethren, of which see plain examples, Exodus 26:3; Exodus 32:27,Exodus 32:29; Ezekiel 1:9; Ezekiel 3:13; Ezekiel 16:45,Ezekiel 16:48,Ezekiel 16:49. So the sense is, thou shalt not take one woman to another. And this sense may seem more probable,

1. Because else here were a tautology, the marriage of a man with his wife’s sister being sufficiently forbidden, Leviticus 18:16, where marriage with his brother’s wife is forbidden; as also Leviticus 18:9,Leviticus 18:11, where he forbids the marriage of one’s own sister, and cousequently the marriage of one’s wife’s sister, it being manifest and confessed that affinity and consanguinity are of the same consideration and obligation in these matters. Nor can this be added for explication, for then the comment would be darker than the text, nay, it would destroy the text; for then what was simply, and absolutely, and universally forbidden before, is here forbidden doubtfully and restrainedly, and might at least seem to be allowed after the wife’s death; which is rejected by those who own the former interpretation.

2. Because the reason of this prohibition, which is lest he should vex her thereby, is much more proper and effectual against marrying any other woman, than against marrying the wife’s sister, so near and dear a relation being most commonly and probably a means to induce them rather to love and please and serve, than to vex one another in such a relation. And therefore to take her natural sister to vex her, would seem a course unsuitable to his end or design.

3. Some add another reason, that polygamy, which Christ condemns, Matthew 19:5 is either forbidden here or no where in the law. But this may admit of great dispute. And it is observable, that Christ confutes polygamy and divorces, not by any of Moses’s laws, (which probably he would not have omitted, if they had been to his purpose,) but by the first institution of marriage, Genesis 2:23; whence also Malachi seems to fetch his argument, Leviticus 2:14,Leviticus 2:15. And that law, Deuteronomy 21:15,Deuteronomy 21:16, may seem to intimate that God did then, in consideration of the hard-heartedness of the Jewish nation, dispense with that first ; In her lifetime: this clause is added to signify God’s allowance to marry one wife after another, when she is dead, and thereby to intimate how the word sister is to be understood.

Verse 19

No, not to thy own wife. See Exodus 12:2; Exodus 15:24,Exodus 15:25. This was not only a ceremonial pollution, but an immorality also, whence it is put amongst gross sins, Ezekiel 18:6. There is also a natural turpitude in this action. And therefore it is now unlawful under the gospel.

Verse 21

Pass through the fire this was done two ways; either,

1. By burning them in the fire, of which see 2 Kings 3:27; 2 Chronicles 28:3; Psalms 106:37,Psalms 106:38; Isaiah 57:5.

Or, 2. By making them pass between two great fires, which was a kind of illustration or consecration of them to that god; which latter seems to be here meant. See Poole "Deuteronomy 18:10", where the word fire, here understood, is expressed.

To Molech, or, Moloch; called also Milcom; an idol chiefly of the Ammonites, as appears from 1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 23:13; Jeremiah 49:1,Jeremiah 49:3. This seems to be the Saturn of the heathens, to whom especially children and men were sacrificed. This is mentioned, because the neighbours of Israel were most infected with this idolatry, and therefore they are particularly cautioned against it, though under this one instance all other idols and acts, or kinds of idolatry, are manifestly comprehended and forbidden.

Neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God; either by joining him with, or by forsaking him for, such a base and bloody idol, whereby the name, honour, and service of God would be horribly defiled, and exposed to the scorn of the heathen, as if he were but one of the same kind with their mongrel deities.

Verse 23

A horrible confusion of the natures which God hath distinguished, and of the order which God hath appointed, and an overthrow of. all bounds of religion, honesty, sobriety, and modesty.

Verse 24

In all these, to wit, above-mentioned sins. Whence it is apparent that the several incests here prohibited are not only against the positive and particular law given by God to the Jews, but also against the general law and light of nature. And therefore the law about these things was one of the seven precepts of Noah. And the sober heathens condemned such incestuous marriages. The Roman historians observe, that when Claudius the emperor had married his niece, (which is one of the lowest kinds of incest here mentioned,) and the senate in complaisance with him had made it lawful for any to do so, yet there was but one, and he too an obscure person, that followed his example.

Verse 25

I do visit; I am now visiting, or about to visit, i. e. to punish. See Isaiah 26:21.

The land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants, as no less burdens to the earth than corrupted food is to the stomach. See Jeremiah 9:19; Micah 2:10.

Verse 26

Nor any stranger, in nation or religion, of what kind soever. For though they might not force them to submit to their religion, yet they might restrain them from the public contempt of the Jewish laws, and from the violation of natural laws, which besides the offence against God and nature, were matters of evil example and consequence to the Israelites themselves.

Verse 29

To wit, by death to be inflicted by the magistrates, as it is apparent in case of idolatry with Moloch or other false gods; and in case of the magistrates neglect, by God himself. This phrase therefore of cutting off is to be understood variously, as many other phrases are, either of ecclesiastical, or civil and corporal punishment, according to the differing natures of the offences for which it is inflicted.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Leviticus 18". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.