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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 18




Leviticus 18. Degrees of Affinity.—The chapter is closely connected in subject-matter with Leviticus 20:11-20, though the details are different, and the two sections must be independent. Leviticus 20 omits mention of mother (as distinct from father's wife), and the cases of Leviticus 18:10-11; Leviticus 18:18. In four cases, Leviticus 20 adds a penalty (Leviticus 20:11-12; Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 20:17; cf. Leviticus 20:15-16), and in two others a consequence, childlessness (Leviticus 18:20 f.). These prohibitions, from their similarity to widespread taboos, are obviously pre-Mosaic (cf. Westermarck, History of Human Marriage). The origin of prohibited degrees is doubtful; the recognition is universal; the actual prohibitions differ widely. They are generally the most complicated among the least advanced peoples (cf. Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia), and regarded as visited with the severest Divine penalties. H, however, completely neglects two points common outside Israel; (a) the distinction between exogamous groups, resting on the dread of kindred blood, and (b) the special importance of the mother; in primitive society the father hardly counts (cf. Genesis 44:27, Judges 8:19); hence the so-called "matriarchate," where genealogy is traced through the mother, not the father. For the general recognition of these "taboos" in earlier times, see Genesis 19:30 ff; Genesis 20:12, 2 Samuel 13:13.

Verses 1-5

Leviticus 18:1-5. General Warning against Conformity to Indigenous Practices.—The phrase "I am Yahweh" is characteristic of Ezek. and H, occurring twenty-one times in Leviticus 18-20. If a command is understood as coming from Yahweh, it is thereby authoritative, but the legislation is also doing explicitly what is implied in all the codes, viz. indicating traditional customs as the express order of Yahweh.

Verses 6-18

Leviticus 18:6-18. Forbidden Degrees of Marriage.—After a general preface (Leviticus 18:6) the relationships are given in detail. The phrase "uncover the nakedness" is almost confined to Leviticus 17-20, Ezek., and Genesis 9. No penalties or consequences are given, though reasons are sometimes added (e.g. Leviticus 18:14; Leviticus 18:16 f.). Two special cases should be noticed; prohibition of marriage with a father's wife (Leviticus 18:8), which has often been familiar in Oriental royal families (cf. 1 Kings 2:22), and of "levirate" marriages (Leviticus 18:16, see p. 109). Contrast Deuteronomy 25:5-10; also Ruth, where, however, there is more thought for the widow, as needing to be looked after, than for her first husband. The more importance is attached to population and the preservation of families, the stronger will be the hold of such a law. From Matthew 22:23 ff., it would seem that the prohibition of Lev. could not overcome an old-established custom which was able to give a reason for itself. There is no prohibition of the marriage of uncle and niece, or of cousins. In older societies (e.g. Fiji) the marriage of paternal cousins is allowed, and even encouraged, but that of maternal cousins strictly forbidden, through the influence of matriarchal ideas. Marriage with a daughter is not actually mentioned, probably by inadvertence. Bigamy is never prohibited in the OT in Leviticus 18:18 its existence is implied; it gradually fell out of use. The restriction of Leviticus 18:18 (observe also in her lifetime") is noteworthy (cf. 1 Samuel 1:6). [In view of frequent misuse it may be explicitly stated that this passage has nothing to do with marriage to a deceased wife's sister. A man may not marry his wife's sister while the wife is still living.—A. S. P.] The Semitic name for a fellow-wife is significantly derived from a root meaning "hostile" (cf. 1 Samuel 1:6*).

Verses 19-23

Leviticus 18:19-23. Appendices.—The grouping of offences is noteworthy, and the presence of Leviticus 18:21 (perhaps not original) with the rest. For Leviticus 18:19, see on Leviticus 15:24, and cf. Ezekiel 18:6. For Leviticus 18:20, cf. Exodus 20:14. If the characteristic words "to defile thyself," were taken seriously, they would revolutionise the still prevailing moral estimates of sexual sins. For the custom of the ceremonial passing of children through the fire, cf. Leviticus 8:21*, 2 Kings 23:10, Jeremiah 7:31*, Ezekiel 20:25 f.* It is not certain that this meant a horrible death; it might simply involve (as in other countries) a leaping through flames, regarded either as purificatory or as an equivalent for such a sacrifice as that of Genesis 22. The name Molech is connected with the Heb. word for "king" (cf. Baal = "lord"), possibly pronounced by later Jews with the vowels of the word "Bosheth" (shame, cf. Numbers 32:38*, 1 Samuel 14:47-51*, 1 Kings 16:32*). Doubtless Molech was identified by the populace with Yahweh. The horror of the unions prohibited in Leviticus 18:22 f. is deep-rooted (cf. Genesis 19:5). By "confusion" (Leviticus 18:23) is meant a disturbance and violation of the order of nature, and therefore something repulsive. The chapter does not refer either to fornication or to simple unchastity. The former is a recognised institution in the OT (cf. Genesis 38, 1 Kings 22:38, not RVm), but regarded by the better minds with loathing (Hosea 1-3, Ezekiel 23). The latter is seldom referred to (in Exodus 22:16 and Leviticus 19:20, unchastity is thought of as a sin chiefly against property, as often in English and other law); independently of the codes, however, moral feeling on the subject definitely though perhaps slowly advances in Israel, doubtless owing in part to the intensity of family life and feeling but it first finds clear expression in the NT.

Verses 23-30

Leviticus 18:23-30. Epilogue.—These sins mean defilement for those who commit them, whether Canaanites or Israelites, and also for the land itself. Hence the land also must be punished, and will vomit out its inhabitants as so much unclean or noisome food (cf. Ezekiel 36:6 ff., Ezekiel 36:17). Leviticus 18:26 is parallel to Leviticus 18:30, which forms an impressive conclusion to the whole chapter; Leviticus 18:29, however, where alone in this chapter an actual punishment is stated, is rather in the manner of Leviticus 17 and Leviticus 20.


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Leviticus 18:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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