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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 18

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-30

Incestuous Marriages: Domestic Purity


Leviticus 18:2.—Speak unto them and say, I am the Lord your God. Jehovah is the sole lawgiver, His word the one law to His people: ungodly customs and usages claim no heed from them: what He wills is absolute. Relationship to, and fellowship with God are based upon implicit obedience. There must be cheerful acceptance of His authority in all the details of life. Ethics are to be decided by the word divine, for who but “the Lord” should erect the standard of rectitude for man?

Leviticus 18:3.—After the doings of the land of Egypt. The Israelites dwelt amid a people of corrupt and debasing habits for so long a period that it was with difficulty they purged themselves from sympathy with familiar evils. They who enter upon the new life of grace in Christ Jesus find that their “old sins” follow close upon their steps and exert seductive influence. To “cast out the old leaven” is a necessity still, if we would enjoy the favours of our redeemed lot and our new-covenant relationships. What “Egypt” approved or “Canaan” practised may no longer regulate the godly life; but, What saith the Lord?

Leviticus 18:5.—He shall live in them. Social health and spiritual blessedness will always attend obedience to God’s just and benign “statutes.” Violation of the laws of humanity, the laws of rectitude and purity, bring physical decrepitude and social disaster.

Here note that these words form the basis of the Old Testament doctrine of salvation by works Obedience secures life—sacred and eternal life. These words are quoted by the prophet Ezekiel (Leviticus 20:11; Leviticus 20:13; Leviticus 20:21), and by the Apostle Paul (Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:12.), as summarizing the teachings of Moses’ dispensation—the merits of works, justification by obedience. We, in gospel times, realise life through faith; salvation in Christ’s merits, and not in our own. Yet the beneficent law stands for ever: that observance of God’s law is salutory; for “life” is most truly realised now by those whose conduct is godly, and blessed rewards are assured hereafter to those who do those things which please the Lord.

Leviticus 18:6-18.—None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin. The prohibited cases of intercourse or marriage are: the son’s own mother, and consequently, by inference, the daughter’s own father (Leviticus 18:7); a stepmother, and, by inference, a stepfather (Leviticus 18:8); a full sister or half sister (Leviticus 18:9); a granddaughter (Leviticus 18:10); a half-sister (Leviticus 18:11); an aunt (Leviticus 18:12); an aunt by marriage (Leviticus 18:13-14); a daughter-in-law (v 15); a brother’s wife (Leviticus 18:16); a step daughter, and a step-granddaughter (Leviticus 18:17); polygamy is interdicted (Leviticus 18:18), the adding “a wife to her sister,” and this during the wife’s “lifetime.” The inference in each case carries prohibition also to the corresponding relationship: as e.g., half-brother (Leviticus 18:9); uncle (Leviticus 18:12); son-in-law (Leviticus 18:15), and so on throughout. Every marriage alliance is to be ruled by the initiatory definition (Leviticus 18:6), “Near of kin”; and the instances specified show this near kinship to include cases of consanguinity and also equally of marriage relationship. Let this interpretation be applied to the question of the “deceased wife’s sister.”

The important law running through all these regulations is: Fidelity in wedlock; scrupulous honour in the marriage relationship; the door is to be closed on all occasion of jealousy or illicit love. Home bonds are to be cherished as all too sacred and precious for passion or caprice to trifle with. God will have family obligations loyally and vigorously maintained.

Leviticus 18:19-23 Crimes against Purity. How shamefully vile humanity may become! What a gross being is he whom God pities and would save; and how low has he fallen whom Christ would lift up to sanctity and bliss!

Leviticus 18:24-30. The land is defiled. The well-being of a land depends on the morality of its inhabitants. National decay sets in when the people become abandoned. The records of national life, from ancient times till now, emphasise the precept, “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).



After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do; and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do,etc.

Danger lurks in example; customs lure us from strict integrity; easy to fall in with prevailing habits, sentiments, ideas. With “men of this world” who have no disposition to “come out from among them, be separate, and touch not the unclean thing,” the current maxims and methods are accepted without challenge, they stream along with the flow of social life; they yield themselves unresistingly to the popular course.

Herein lies the distinction, the distinguishing element of piety; it refuses to allow custom to dominate either conscience or conduct.


“After the doings of the land of Egypt, and after the doings of the land of Canaan.”

1. Ensuarements are not escaped by change of place. He who thinks to flee the world by exchanging “Egypt” for “Canaan,” will find the world still at his heels. To quit your gentle home for the cloister or the nunnery; to forsake one sphere of business for another in hope of fleeing the sanctioned malpractices of trade; to attempt to be “not of the world” by any process of mere exclusion and avoidance of places and people, is a fallacy; for evil is everywhere, in some guise or disguise; and from the snares of sin and the sanctions of impiety there is no hiding-place in “this present evil world.”

2. Ensnarements are not left behind with the advance of years Forty years were spent by the Israelites in the desert, between “Egypt” and “Canaan”; yet that distance of time would not liberate them from the seductions of worldliness. What they left behind them in “Egypt” they would meet again, in altered forms, in “Canaan,” when at length they reached that land. No Christian ever advances beyond the reach of evil and the subtleties of the world. What he had to fight with during his Egyptian life he will have to fight with all his career through. Time does not rid the godly of this seductive peril.

3. Ensnarements are not absent from coveted scenes of privilege. “Canaan” was the hope and desire of every Israelite. It was a “goodly land,” the inheritance of faith, the goal of pilgrimage. “Egypt” was a scene of bondage and grief, type of a sinner’s lot ere redeemed. But “Canaan” was suggestive of liberty, prosperity, privilege, symbol of the Christian life of sacred rest, freedom, and joy in the Lord. Yet even within “Canaan” the snares of sin would be encountered; no release from danger, a stern necessity to “watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation”; and this in most delightful and hallowed hours, amid spiritual favours and privileges. Even the happiest Christian life is encompassed about with “the sins that so easily beset us.” [See Addenda to chapter xviii., Custom.]


The Egyptians were the most civilised and majestic people of the age; and their “doings” and “ordinances” may represent the usages of society and culture: the customs of refinement and respectability. The Canaanites were a rude and unpolished people, easy and free; and their “doings” and “ordinances” answer to the popular maxims and habits, the pleasures and practices current among the less educated, the customs of the masses.

1. Wherever our place, whatever our station, godliness repudiates and renounces sin. Yes: and every form of sin; personal or social; secret or open; sanctioned or unpopular. The man of God loathes impurity, shuns impiety. Not fashioning himself to the standard of morals around him, he has “no fellowship with the unfaithful works of darkness, but rather reproves them.”

2. An accommodating conscience, and an obliging disposition, must be allowed no sanction in commerce with the world. “After their doings ye shall not do!” “Neither shall ye walk in their ordinances.”

And to my mind, tho’ I am a native here,
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honoured in the breach than in the observance.—Hamlet.

3. Amid prevailing error it is the business of godliness to show the right and good. What else is the significance of our Lord’s words: “Ye are the light of the world”; “ye are the salt of the earth”? It is neither convenient or advantageous to assume this attitude of resistance against the cherished “ordinances” of social, literary, or professedly religious life. But the Christian is among men with a divine business, to put wrong to the blush; to pronounce by his virtues against all vice, by his spirituality against all earthliness of soul, by his self-denials against all low indulgence, by his lofty worship against all dead formality or careless irreverence. Religion is the fearless yet beautiful exhibition of the

Piety, whose soul sincere,
Fears God, and knows no other fear.


1. The standard of divine relationship. “I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 18:2). Israel’s “doings” were to take tone and character from this fact—their God was the Lord; He was theirs, and they His. Living under the influence of that solemn relationship, their conduct should harmonise with His perfections—“holy as He is holy.” It is the hourly obligation of the Christian, to “walk worthy of the Lord,” to “walk so as also He walked.”

2. The standard of divine teachings. God has told us His will; in precept and commandment we have our directory of conduct. His word is to be “a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.” None can err through lack of instruction. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.” This is the law for Israel everywhere: “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein” (Leviticus 18:4).

3. The standard of divine claims. God’s ordinances were not imperious exactions; He deserved all He asked of Israel in return for His grace and love to them. Already they were, by His almighty arm, redeemed from “Egypt,” and they were journeying to “Canaan, whither I bring you.” They owed Him loyal obedience, loving regard, cheerful acquiesence. “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me?” “How much owest thou unto my Lord?” What claim on your life comes from His cross?

4. The standard of divine promise. “Keep my statutes, which if a man do he shall live in them” (Leviticus 18:5). Present gains and comforts, eternal life and bliss. For “godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come.” [See Addenda to chap. xviii., Religion.]


After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do” (Leviticus 18:3).

Israel now under the drill and discipline of Jehovah. The pilgrimage through the wilderness to be a period of moral probation. Moral precepts now associated with positive commands. The need of this injunction seen from—

I. THE INHERENT PROPENSITY OF HUMAN NATURE TO WORLDLINESS. Indulgence of animal appetites, exclusive concern for present enjoyment, inclination to conform to prevailing customs, worldliness congenial, and therefore easy to our fallen nature; these things show the need for the call to nonconformity to the world.

II. THE EXALTED MISSION TO WHICH ISRAEL WAS CALLED. The nation was selected to be the repository of divine truth, the community among which Jehovah would specially display His goodness and glory. Israel was not to move with the evil stream of tendency making for unrighteousness, but to become singular, come out from the ungodly, and touch not the unclean thing. This, the true idea of a Church—drawn out, separated from the world. Christ taught that those who escape a worse than Egyptian bondage are to be known by the nonconformity to the world, separation from sin, “light of the world,” “salt of the earth,” “city set on a hill.”

To become thus peculiar and distinguished for holiness would require, on the part of Israel—as it does of Christians—(a) Deep rooted repugnance to sin; (b) resolute resistance of temptation; (c) prayer for divine assistance; (d) heroic struggles after self-conquest. To achieve victory over the world is life, to sustain defeat is death. While in the world, let us seek not to be of it. While not praying to be taken out of the world, we should pray to be kept from the evil.—F.W.B.


If a man do, he shall live in them” (Leviticus 18:5)

The legislation to which Israel was expected to submit was not an arbitrary and despotic code of laws imposed to humble them and force them into subjection; but a government of righteousness that would secure the glory of God and, at the same time, the salvation of man. Jehovah entered into covenant with His people, and engaged to fulfil all His gracious promises, if only the conditions were secured upon which their fulfilment was made to hinge. The way of life and the way of death were set before the people; they were exhorted to embrace the former, warned to escape the latter. Punishment was annexed to disobedience, reward to doing well. Thus the world was taught through the Mosaic legislation—

I. THAT LIFE IS NOT AN IDLE DREAM. Time was not to be spent in self-gratification, or wasted in wanton wickedness. Life, though brief, and like a vapour, to be turned to something real, spent in doing the will of God. Life not a period for lounging or loitering, but for service, conflict, progress. It is the morning, the seed time of eternity; let us improve each golden opportunity, and remember whatsoever we sow that shall we reap,

We live in thoughts, not breath; in deeds, not years;
In feelings, not in figures on the dial:
We must count time by heart-throbs,
He most lives, who thinks most, feels the noblest,
Acts the best.

II. THAT MAN IS NOT A CREATURE OF CIRCUMSTANCES. Israel was not to be the victim of the environments of Egypt, from which they had just emerged; nor of the influences that would encircle them in the land towards which they were journeying. They were not to drift but to live—not to be moulded by circumstances, but conquer them, and leave the stamp of their piety and loyalty wherever they went. They had the faculty of reason, the prerogative of choice, were responsible for the use they made of the privileges they enjoyed. Though Jehovah commanded, He did not coerce, the people were left free to obey or rebel. With life attached to obedience, surely the people would be led to (a) resist every seduction to disobedience; (b) avoid every place, person, and thing that would suggest sin and incite to wrong doing; (c) covet above everything else the favour of the great king, who declared Himself, “I am the Lord your God.” Concerning the commandments of the gospel, in the language of its glorious Author, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”—F. W. B.


Neither shalt thou profane the Name of thy God” (Leviticus 18:21).

Peculiar solemnity attached to the divine name; it conveyed to the minds of the Hebrews ideas of the infinite greatness and glory of Jehovah’s nature. It was hedged in by special sanctity, and gave infinite importance and power to everything to which it was attached. The sacredness of the name of the Lord, and the command to keep it holy—

I. SHOWED HOW CLOSELY HE IDENTIFIED HIMSELF WITH HIS PEOPLE. He was one with them, called them into close fellowship, and His honour was bound up with their character and conduct. If Israel fell into sin and shame, Jehovah’s name was profaned.

II. SHOWED HOW IMMACULATELY PURE JEHOVAH IS. His name was emphatically holy and distinguished from all other names known in earth and heaven. The nature of Jehovah so transparently pure that every kind of evil, however trivial in appearance, was to be scrupulously avoided for His sake.

III. SHOWED HOW HEINOUS ALL SIN IS. Sin is odious and repulsive when we remember (a) Its brutish and fiendish influences; (b) how it defiles the perpetrator, and contaminates society; (c) how it brings punishment here and torment hereafter. But sin appears most abominable in its nature and awful in its consequences when regarded as an insult to the Almighty, a profanation of His holy name. Let us hate and forsake sin because God hates it; let us view it in the light of Gethsemane and Calvary. The love of Christ will not only conquer our selfishness, and constrain us to holy consecration, but make us hate and forsake every form of iniquity in thought, word, and deed. Life will not be the dragging out of a miserable existence, but a triumphant march to the heavenly Canaan, if we seek to become cleansed from all unrighteousness, and to “perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord.”—F. W. B.


In this chapter moral precepts are associated with ceremonial observances. The home life of Israel was to be kept pure, sexual intercourse to be righteously restricted. The people among whom Jehovah would dwell must be clean in their domestic habits, pure in their social relationship. The natives of Canaan became so addicted to the vices here interdicted that by a retributive providence they became exterminated. These statutes, being moral, are of perpetual obligation; were not destroyed, but fulfilled in the ethical teaching of Christ and His Apostles. The fire of divine anger against impurity burns with greater intensity in the New Testament than in the Old. Observe—


Man was made at first with social instinct and affections; therefore, it is “not good for him to be alone.” In the one help-meet made for him would be found congenial society, conjugal bliss. In the first family marriage relationships were entered upon among its own members, but as the race multiplied it was to the general advantage of families to marry out of their own circles, that the purity and unity of the race might be preserved. Bounds within which the affections might be indulged were divinely revealed, and the displeasure of the Almighty unmistakably announced against every infringement or perversion. The natural propensity to inordinate affection is confirmed (a) By history. Nations and individuls, mentioned in sacred and profane history, present sad proofs of the excesses into which social love will run when the reins are thrown upon the neck of lust. (b) By observation. In our own land and age, amid abounding religious advantages, and restraining influences of civilisation, what vice, immorality, conjugal unfaithfulness, and domestic impurity, abound! Deeds of infamy are done that the powers of darkness may blush to look upon, which the stern hand of the law and the sweet influence of the gospel are aiming to prevent and remove. (c) By experience. “When we would do good evil is present with us,” and the most invincible enemy we have to contend with in our hearts is the Goliath of lust. Our animal passions are our “body of death,” that often wrings from us the doleful exclamation, “O wretched man that I am.” Pure Platonic love is a splendid but Utopian idea. The best of men have found it necessary to watch carefully the issues of life, to keep the body under subjection, lest passions intended to play honourably become prolific sources of corruption and misery.


The springs of national purity are in the homes of the people; when the home life is corrupt the knell of a nation’s greatness is tolled by the hand of doom. Expediency, conscience, and self-love might, in some instances, suggest restrictions in the indulgence of sensuous affection; but nothing short of such regulations as those here enjoined could effect the desirable end. And these regulations were enforced with great authority—on the ground of Jehovah’s sovereignty and holiness, “I am the Lord your God.” From such an authority there could be no appeal, for it respect and obedience would be demanded. Thus, all incest and unchastity were (a) detestable to Jehovah; (b) an outrage upon human nature; (c) incompatible with man’s physical, mental, and moral well-being; (d) in antagonism to the laws and forces of the universe. These statutes exhibit the wisdom and goodness of our great Creator; that as a holy and righteous Father He cares for the best interests of His children by wedding holiness and happiness in indissoluble union. Having made man, He knew what was in him, what was best for him; being his natural and moral governor He could justly impose what prohibitions He saw fit.


Whether positive or moral, divine precepts ought to be obeyed, for (a) they are all sovereign. Emanate from the King of kings, from the Source of all authority and power. God has absolute right to command or restrain. (b) They are all humane. Everything interdicted would be good for man to shun, for vice is cruel, degrading and filthy. (c) They are all salutary. The Individual, the Family, the Church, the State, all made healthy, pure and strong by avoidance of every species of immorality, by the practice of moral virtues.

(1) To keep these divine commandments was life. They tended to prolong his life, make it worth living, secure the favour of the Almighty, which is better than life.

(2) To break them was death. Those who indulged in corrupt heathenish habits would be cut off from among the people. Immorality debases, deteriorates, and entails death. Let but the divine laws regarding purity be rigidly observed, the social fabric of a nation will rest upon a rock; neglected, it will sink into the mire of corruption, into the pit of oblivion. To go on in sin that grace may abound is a foul heresy, injurious to man, detestable to God. The gospel gathers up the teachings of the law and the prophets, and shows that “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”—F. W. B.



“Man yields to custom, as he bows to fate,
In all things ruled—mind, body, and estate.”


“Custom calls me to’t:—

What custom wills, in all things should we do it?”—Coriolanus, II. 3.

“New customs

Tho’ they be never so ridiculous,
Nay, let them be unmanly, yet are followed.”

Henry VIII., I. 3.


“The body of all true religion consists, to be true, in obedience to the will of the Sovereign of the world, in a confidence in His declarations, and in imitation of His perfections”—BURKE.

“Piety, like wisdom, consists in the discovery of the rules under which we are actually placed, and in faithfully obeying them.”—FROUDE.
“Life and Religion are one, or neither is anything. I will not say neither is going to be anything. Religion is no way of life, no show of life, no observances of any sort. It is neither the food nor medicine of being. It is life essential.”—GEO. MACDONALD.
“A religious life is a struggle and not a hymn.”—MADAME DE STAEL.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Leviticus 18". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/leviticus-18.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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