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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 19




Leviticus 19. Miscellaneous Collection of Precepts, some of them obscure, and placed in a strange order. The order, however, is easier, if we may excise, as later insertions, Leviticus 19:5-8 and Leviticus 19:20-22. With a little ingenuity, these laws may be arranged (as also those of Leviticus 18) in groups of five and ten (see Kent, Israel's Laws and Legal Precedents, p. 39), corresponding to the arrangement of the Decalogue. Or laws which use the second person singular may be different in their origin from those which use the plural (e.g. Leviticus 19:5; Leviticus 19:9; Leviticus 19:11; Leviticus 19:15, and Leviticus 19:10; Leviticus 19:13 f., Leviticus 19:16). It is more important to notice the meaning of holiness here. Originally ritual rather than moral (see p. 196), it is now to be preserved by morality even more than by ritual acts; and the morality demanded soars as high in this chapter as anywhere in the OT, especially Leviticus 19:18. But there is no sense of the gradation of duties; Leviticus 19:18 is followed by Leviticus 19:19, and Leviticus 19:19 by Leviticus 19:20! A threefold attitude can be observed; reverence for old practices and prohibitions of which the reasons were lost in a primitive antiquity; for the sacrificial system; and for the prophetic ideals of humanity and honourable dealing. A sufficient sanction for all these is that they proceed from Yahweh, the deliverer of Israel from Egypt (Leviticus 19:36).

Verses 1-8

Leviticus 19:1-8. Holiness, Piety, Idolatry, Peace-offerings.—Note the mention of the mother first. On the Sabbath, see pp. 101f., Exodus 20:8*. Idols, lit. "things of nought"; only here and in Leviticus 26:1 in Pentateuch; common in 2 Isaiah (cf. 44:9ff.). "Molten," specially prohibited also in Exodus 34:17; not in Exodus 20:4. On consumption of peace offerings, see Leviticus 7:15-18, which, however, only allows this latitude for a vow. Since peace offerings alone were consumed in part) by laymen, this restriction has its place in a manual of holiness for laymen.

Verses 9-18

Leviticus 19:9-18. Humanity and Uprightness.—Gleaning is to be encouraged, both in field and vineyard. It may well be that the corners of the field were originally left so as to avoid driving out the vegetation spirit. [See article Corners by Barton in ERE, and Frazer, Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild, i. 234f. Frazer suggests that the original intention may have been to leave some of the corn for the nourishment of the corn spirits on whom the coming of next year's harvest depended, who might starve and die if the field was completely stripped. Similarly with the regulation of Deuteronomy 24:21.—A. S. P.]. That motive is now forgotten; the practice remains, and a new motive, characteristic of the codifier and the period, is found. Honesty in word and deed is to be maintained, and swearing falsely is prohibited; it is noteworthy that here, though not in the Decalogue, this prohibition is joined to that against stealing and lying. The hired man is to be paid at the end of each day (cf. Deuteronomy 24:14 f., Jeremiah 22:13, Matthew 20:2 ff., James 5:4). The lot of the hired servant was often worse than that of the slave (cf. the famous words in Homer, Od. xv. 640). The deaf man is not to be cursed, because he could not hear the curse and defend himself; and the inabilities of deaf and blind put them under the special protection of Yahweh. There is to be no partiality; to "respect the person" is literally to lift up the face of the suppliant bowing before you. This might perhaps be done, in the case of the poor, out of spite or fear of a powerful adversary; but there is no instance in the OT of what must have been in any case a rare temptation. Gossip, even, is forbidden (cf. Exodus 20:16), and "standing against the blood" of a neighbour, i.e. endangering his life by slanderous accusation. Instead of leaving him to his own sin or its punishment, you must warn him, so as not to incur the guilt of sin on his account. But there must be no ill-will to him; his interests must be to you as your own. This command shows how far the conception of holiness could transcend the purely ritual. The nearest parallel is Romans 12:1 ff., where "service" (a ritual word) is expounded in a series of precepts which hardly surpass this ritual of true neighbourliness. The "neighbour," however, is only a kinsman or fellow-countryman. Contrast Luke 10:29, but cf. Leviticus 19:33 f. and Exodus 22:21.

Verses 19-25

Leviticus 19:19-25. Holiness in Farm Life and between the Sexes.—Hybrids are forbidden; a rule which, with its curious extensions, is found in Deuteronomy 22:9 f.; but contrast 2 Samuel 13:29, 1 Kings 10:25, Ezekiel 27:14; mules were highly valued in Palestine. Perhaps some magical heathen practice is the real object of the prohibition. [Mixtures of wool and cotton played a part in magic, and that probably accounts for the prohibition of "two kinds of stuff," which is explained in Deuteronomy 22:11 as "wool and linen together." In Deuteronomy 22:10 the prohibition of hybrids is absent, and in its place ploughing with ox and ass together is forbidden.—A. S. P.] The punishment of the seduction of a betrothed slave (Leviticus 19:20-22) should follow Leviticus 20:12. In Leviticus 19, no penalties are stated. The woman is not to be put to death, as her master would lose her. With the necessary guilt offering (Leviticus 5:15), no extra fifth is here mentioned. Newly-planted trees are not to be plucked for three years, possibly because the first-fruits must in any case be given to Yahweh, and these are not good enough for such a gift. The "circumcision" of a tree is its ceremonial stripping. Not till the fifth year can it be safely used for food. [The point is perhaps that during the first three years it is taboo and must be left alone; it may originally have been left for the field-spirits. Notice that animal firstlings were also not used till they were three years old. The Arabs propitiate the jinn with blood when a piece of land is ploughed for the first time.—A. S. P.]

Verses 26-32

Leviticus 19:26-32. Miscellaneous Precepts, all found elsewhere, except the last. Most of the forbidden actions have some magical significance, e.g. cutting the hair in a special fashion, or maiming oneself (originally, to delude the dangerous spirits of the dead while they are still near, at or after a funeral, or perhaps as a respectful offering to them, see p. 110). Leviticus 19:29 probably refers to the licentious cults of nature and other pagan deities. For Leviticus 19:31, cf. 1 Samuel 28:8 ff., Deuteronomy 18:11, Isaiah 8:19. Note that wizards defile those who visit them, as bringing them into contact with an alien deity or power.

[Leviticus 19:27. A similar practice is attested for the Arabs by Herodotus III. 8, and is alluded to in Jeremiah 9:26* Jeremiah 25:23. It is not unlikely that the hair was offered in sacrifice: the practice would then be an instance of the widespread custom of making hair-offerings (Numbers 6:13-21*).

Leviticus 19:28. print any marks: this tattooing was probably a religious usage; the name of a deity (Isaiah 44:5*), or it might be the clan totem or other tribal mark, being tatooed on the person in sign that the bearer was consecrated to that deity or belonged to that clan.—A. S. P.]

Verses 33-36

Leviticus 19:33-36. Final Rules of Humanity and Justice.—Resident aliens are to be respected; fraud is to be banished. For the "stranger," cf. Leviticus 17:8 f.*. Straightforward dealing is here placed in a position of special importance. It is uniformly emphasized by the prophets (Amos 5:24, Micah 6:8, Ezekiel 45:9 ff.). In early stages of society, untested and unstandardised weights and measures make dishonesty easy. The weights unearthed in the soil of Palestine (e.g. at Gezer) make no pretence to exactness. The isolated fragment in Numbers 15:37-41* (provision of fringes on garments) seems to belong, in style and matter, to H, and would best be inserted after Leviticus 19:31.


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Leviticus 19:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 26th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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