Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 29th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 18

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2514. B.C. 1490.

A prohibition of conformity to the heathens, Leviticus 18:1-5 . Particular laws against incest, Leviticus 18:6-18 . Against unnatural lusts and barbarous idolatries, Leviticus 18:19-23 . Enforced from the destruction of the Canaanites, Leviticus 18:24-30 .

Verse 1

Leviticus 18:1. It being one special design of God to preserve his people from the lewd and idolatrous customs of other nations, Moses now receives particular orders to prohibit the Israelites from many of those unnatural practices which were common among the ancient idolaters.

Verse 2

Leviticus 18:2. Your God Your sovereign and lawgiver. This is often repeated, because the things here forbidden were practised and allowed by the Gentiles, to whose custom he opposes divine authority and their obligation to obey his commands.

Verse 3

Leviticus 18:3. 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.

Verse 4

Leviticus 18:4. My judgments Though you do not see the particular reason of some of them, and though they be contrary to the laws and usages of the other nations.

Verse 5

Leviticus 18:5. He shall live in them Not only happily here, but eternally hereafter. This is added as a powerful argument why they should follow God’s commands rather than men’s examples, because their life and happiness depended upon it. And though in strictness, and according to the covenant of works, they could not challenge life for so doing, except their obedience was universal, perfect, constant, and perpetual, and therefore no man since the fall could be justified by the law; yet by the covenant of grace this life is promised to all that obey God’s commands sincerely. I am the Lord Hebrew, I am Jehovah; that is, I am faithful to keep my covenant, and to fulfil my promises. See on Exodus 6:3. I am the sovereign dispenser of life and death, and therefore they that keep my laws shall live.

Verse 6

Leviticus 18:6. The first of these prohibitions is against all improper and incestuous marriages, a thing very common among the Canaanitish nations and in Egypt, even to the last degree of unnatural mixtures. Diodorus Siculus relates, that it was permitted by law in the latter country, contrary to the custom of other nations, that a man might marry his own sister. None of you shall approach The prohibition is absolute, and no advances were to be made toward its violation. Indeed the only way to avoid actual transgressions, is to resist and guard against the first motions of evil. Principiis obsta, withstand the first approach of sin, is a most important precept. And it is to be well observed, that as these laws forbade marriages between near relations, they certainly much more prohibited unchastity between them, and every approach to it. Any that is near akin to him Hebrew, The remainder of his flesh; that is, his immediate relations, so near akin to him, that they are, as we say, his own flesh and blood; such as a man’s sister, mother, daughter. Indeed, had near relations been allowed to marry each other, the most mischievous and fatal consequences must have resulted from it. For being much together in youth, temptations to unchastity would frequently have been too powerful to have been resisted. But, by such a restriction as this, being taught to look upon all such intercourse as prohibited and incestuous, they were assisted to withstand temptations to evil.

Verse 7

Leviticus 18:7. The nakedness of thy father, or of thy mother This is but one fact, though expressed two ways, as appears from Leviticus 18:8, compared with Leviticus 20:11. The expression imports, that such an action is doing the greatest dishonour to one’s father and mother.

Verse 9

Leviticus 18:9. Whether she be born at home, or born abroad Whether she be legitimately born in wedlock, or illegitimately out of wedlock. Others explain it thus: “Whether she be thy sister by the same father, or by another marriage.”

Verse 14

Leviticus 18:14. Thy father’s brother Thou shalt not marry thy uncle’s wife, as is explained in the next words.

Verse 16

Leviticus 18:16. Thy brother’s wife Unless he died childless, for in that case God afterward commanded that a man should marry his brother’s widow, Deuteronomy 25:5. For the prohibiting of marriages in the more remote degrees of consanguinity, where other moral considerations are less obvious, there is this good reason to be assigned, namely, that marriage being one of the firmest bonds of friendship, it is proper, for the greater good of society, that men should seek to enlarge the ties of friendship and social affection, by uniting, not with those to whom they were before related, but with persons of different families.

Verse 17

Leviticus 18:17. A woman and her daughter If a man married a widow that had a daughter, he was not allowed to marry this daughter, either while the mother was alive or after her death.

Verse 18

Leviticus 18:18. A wife to her sister The meaning seems to be, that no man should take to wife two sisters, which had sometimes been done, as we see in the example of Jacob. It may, however, signify that a man, who already had a wife, was not to take another out of mere incontinency, which would tend only to break his wife’s peace; but that if he took that liberty at all, it ought only to be when his wife consented to it, as Sarah did in the case of Abraham’s marrying Hagar, and Rachel in the case of Bilhah. To vex her Grotius justly observes, that as the feuds and animosities of brothers are, of all others, the most keen; so are generally the jealousies and emulations between sisters, whereof we have an example in the history of Rachel and Leah.

Verse 19

Leviticus 18:19. As long as she is set apart No, not to thy own wife. This was not only a ceremonial pollution, but an immorality also, whence it is put among gross sins, Ezekiel 18:6. And therefore it is now unlawful under the gospel.

Verse 21

Leviticus 18:21. Pass through the fire to Molech In the Hebrew it is only pass through to Molech. But though the word fire be not in the original, it is reasonably supplied from other places, where it is expressed, as Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Kings 23:10. Molech, called also Milcom, was the idol of the Ammonites. The name signifies king, or regal dominion, and is thought to denote the sun, the supreme, and probably the first object of idolatrous worship. Or, as others, the planet Saturn; for it appears from Amos 5:26, that Molech represented one of the celestial luminaries. Now, as fire is a fit emblem of the sun, the causing their seed to pass through the fire is thought to have been a rite of purification whereby parents consecrated their children to that deity, either by waving them over the fire, or by making them walk between two fires, or jump over a fire. This is the opinion of many able interpreters. But Selden, who has given a large account of this idol, and of the rites with which it was worshipped, shows, from several testimonies, that the Phœnicians, and other nations in the neighbourhood of Judea, actually sacrificed their children, in times of great calamity, to this blood-thirsty demon. Accordingly this phrase of causing them to pass through the fire, signifies sacrificing them in the following horrid manner, Ezekiel 16:20-21. Fagius informs us, that the image of Molech was of brass, contrived with seven cells or receptacles, probably representing the seven planets, the first for receiving an offering of flour; the second of turtle-doves; the third for a ewe; the fourth for a ram; the fifth for a calf; the sixth for an ox; the seventh for a child. who, being shut up in this cell, as in a furnace, was therein burned to death, while the people danced about the idol, and beat timbrels, that the cries of the tormented infant might not be heard. We have authority from the sacred writings to believe that these nations actually sacrificed their children to that grim idol, in some such horrid manner. Compare 2 Chronicles 28:3, and Jeremiah 7:31, with Jeremiah 32:35; Jeremiah 19:5; Psalms 106:37-38, and Ezekiel 16:20-21. In all which places, to pass through the fire, signifies the consuming of the victim by fire. And Le Clerc ingeniously conjectures, that this phrase, passing through to Molech, was invented by the impious priests, in order to convey a softer idea of that horrid rite. We may further observe, that there was a place near Jerusalem, where this horrid custom was observed. It was called the valley of the sons of Hinnom, (2 Chronicles 28:3,) from the yelling of the sacrificed infants. And for the same reason it had the name of Tophet, (2 Kings 23:10,) from Toph, a tabret or drum, with which they used to drown the dreadful outcries of the unhappy victims. Neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God This idolatry in the Israelites would be the foulest and most profane renunciation of the true GOD, to whom they and their posterity were solemnly devoted, and at the same time it would give occasion to strangers to blaspheme the name of Jehovah, as if he authorized such barbarities in his worshippers.

Verse 26

Leviticus 18:26. 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 to the Israelites themselves.

Verse 29

Leviticus 18:29. Cut off This phrase therefore, of cutting off, is to be understood variously, either of ecclesiastical or civil punishment, according to the differing natures of the offences for which it was inflicted.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Leviticus 18". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/leviticus-18.html. 1857.
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