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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Leviticus 19





A repetition of various laws; with the addition of some new ones.

Before Christ 1490.

Verse 4

Leviticus 19:4. Turn ye not unto idols The word rendered idols אלילים elilim, coming from אליל elil, vain, foolish, false, signifies vain, foolish, or false things: a name given in just contempt by believers to the vain objects of heathen worship, which were nothing in themselves, and to worship which shewed the greater folly; as, having no intellectual existence, they were unable to help: We know that an idol is nothing in the world, says St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 8:4 an observation equally true, whatever was the object of false worship.

Verse 5

Leviticus 19:5. At your own will Houbigant renders this, that you may be accepted; and for this he has the countenance of many ancient versions. See ch. Leviticus 22:20-21. Exodus 28:38.

Verse 9

Leviticus 19:9. When ye reap the harvest of your land Those who consider this humane law, and several others of the same sort in the Mosaic dispensation, will evidently discern that the great Author of them endeavoured to inculcate a high spirit of humanity and benevolence; and consequently that those professors of this law, who acted upon narrow and selfish principles, as much mistook its genius, as they did discredit to the Divine Lawgiver, even that Lord God, who, in rich bounty, giving them all things abundantly, to enjoy, required tenderness and charity to their fellow-creatures: for he is always the same; a God of love, full of mercy and compassion. Therefore they much mistake the God of the Hebrews, and the nature of the Jewish dispensation, who represent him as less merciful and gracious, and that dispensation as infinitely less benevolent than the Christian. The God of both dispensations is the immutable, unchangeable Jehovah; in both, love to him and our brother is the great commandment: the former can, with propriety, be considered only as a dispensation less perfect indeed, but nobly preparative of the Christian.

REFLECTIONS.—It was Moses's concern to make the will of God known to all the people; and a faithful steward he was in God's house.

1. A general command is given including all the rest: Ye shall be holy, or, be ye holy. The design of both the law and gospel, next to God's glory, is the holiness and happiness of his people. For there can be no enjoyment of God, in which alone true happiness consists, without conformity to him.

2. Particular commands, wherein this holiness must be expressed. (1.) In fearing father and mother: implying that filial affection, dutiful obedience, diligence to please, and fear of offending, which every son of Israel must shew to both his parents. (2.) In sanctifying the sabbath. They shew themselves truly children of God, who join piety towards their Father in heaven, to dutifulness to their parents on earth. To despise father or mother, or to prophane God's sabbaths, is the sure mark of a reprobate son. (3.) No idols must be worshipped. (4.) Their sacrifices of peace-offerings must not be eaten beyond the prescribed time. (5.) They must consider and leave a portion for the poor in the harvest-field, and at the vintage. Note; [1.] There can be no true piety towards God, where there is not charity towards men. A covetous heart can never have written upon it, Holiness unto the Lord. [2.] The prayers of the poor, who partake of our blessings, will make us ample amends for the handful we leave them. No gain so great or sure as what is thus lent unto the Lord.

Verse 11

Leviticus 19:11. Ye shall not steal Theft, whose parent generally is covetousness, is here forbidden, with its certain concomitants, fraud, lying, perjury, deceit, and inhumanity.

Verse 13

Leviticus 19:13. The wages of him that is hired This, with the law in the following verse, as well as several others in this chapter, particularly those in the 32nd and 33rd verses, confirm what we have remarked in the note on Leviticus 19:9. See more respecting this law in Deuteronomy 24:15.

Verse 14

Leviticus 19:14. Thou shalt not curse the deaf, &c.— Though the humanity of these precepts renders them very reasonable and intelligible in the letter, yet many of the Jewish writers, no less than Christian expositors, understand them in a figurative sense, importing, that we should be careful not to injure those who are incapable of defending themselves from the injury; as a deaf man is from defamation, or a blind man from a stumbling-block laid in his way: or, the latter, of putting a stumbling-block before the blind, may be understood of giving evil counsel to the simple, and advising the ignorant and credulous to their hurt. See Deuteronomy 27:18.

Verse 15

Leviticus 19:15. Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor See Exodus 23:6.

Verse 16

Leviticus 19:16. Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer This hateful practice is discountenanced in the strongest manner in the New Testament, and is, in every respect, contrary to that love which dwells with pleasure on the virtues of others, but draws a vail over their faults and imperfections; for love covereth all things. 1 Corinthians 13:7. Proverbs 10:12. 1 Peter 4:8. The Hebrew word here is strong; רכיל rachil, a trader in slander: one whose trade it is, as it were, to carry about from house to house stories and tales to the prejudice of his neighbours, and the destruction of good neighbourhood. This vice naturally introduces that which is prohibited in the next clause of this verse; i.e. false testimony: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour; that is, "thou shalt not stand before the judge, falsely testifying to endanger his life." Ezekiel (xxii. 9.) strongly marks this connection: in thee are men who carry tales to shed blood.

Verse 17

Leviticus 19:17. Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart, &c.— See Luke 17:3 which plainly shews the meaning and connexion of this precept: Thou shalt not hate,—but shalt on every account rebuke; and in this connexion the marginal translation of our English Bibles appears most just: for he is, in some measure, the author, says Houbigant, who is not the dissuader of a fault. How much have they mistaken the nature of the Jewish law, who suppose that it referred only to external acts of injustice, without striking at all at the evil affections of the heart! See the following verse, and compare it with the Gospel precepts concerning forgiveness and love. Too many of the Jews, indeed, confined the word neighbour to those of their own country; Christ has given it a nobler interpretation. See Luke 10:29; Luke 10:42.

Verse 18

Leviticus 19:18. Thou shalt not avenge, &c.— See Romans 12:19. Matthew 7:12 from which we learn how we are to love our neighbour as ourself. Here, indeed, we have the whole of the former precepts in a word; for love will make us honest, true, just, tender, kind, jealous for our neighbour's good, and as sincerely desirous of, and laborious for his welfare in body and soul, as for our own. Lord, shed abroad this love in my heart!

Verse 23

Leviticus 19:23. When ye shall come into the land, &c.— Though a reason for this law may, with great propriety, be drawn from nature itself, which dictates that the fruit of trees is not proper for use till the period here mentioned, yet it was, most probably, given in opposition to those practices of idolaters, who offered the first year's growth of all their fruit-trees to their gods; conceiving that those trees would be blasted whose first-fruits were not thus offered. Others, however, are of opinion, that the intention of the law was to raise in the Hebrews greater abhorrence of the idolatrous customs of the Canaanites, whose crimes were so abominable, as to render the very land where they dwelt, and its productions, for some time impure; a sense, which they think confirmed by the words, ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised.

Verse 24

Leviticus 19:24. Holy, to praise the Lord withal Houbigant has it, the fruit shall be holy, and consecrated to the Lord. See Deuteronomy 12:18.

Verse 25

Leviticus 19:25. That it may yield unto you the increase thereof The Vulgate and Houbigant read it, ye shall eat the fruit of it, gathering in its increase.

Verse 26

Leviticus 19:26. Nor observe times This should certainly be read, nor augur or divine by clouds; which is well known to have been a general practice among the heathens. That this is the precise meaning of the original word, see Parkhurst on עונן.

Verse 27

Leviticus 19:27. Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, &c.— i.e. "Ye shall not cut off the hair from the corners, namely, from the temples and forepart of the head, nor from the extremities of your beards, towards the ear." Some think that this was in opposition to the superstitious tonsure of the wandering Arabs; who lived in tents, and were accustomed to cut the extremities of their hair round, in order to be like their god Bacchus, who, in their mythology, was the same with the sun. (See Herodot. lib. ii. c. 8.) Others think that this refers to a superstitious funeral rite; which they collect from the next verse, from ch. Leviticus 21:5 and from Deuteronomy 14:1 and this latter seems the most probable interpretation: for it is certain, this was an ancient heathen custom in token of excessive mourning. See Isaiah 15:2. Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 48:37. Ezekiel 7:18. Thus the Greeks tore, cut off, and sometimes shaved their hair, in mourning for the dead: and we are told, that it was formerly the custom of the widows of Florida, when their husbands were slain, to cut their hair quite off, and to scatter it over their husbands' graves.

Verse 28

Leviticus 19:28. Ye shall not make any cuttings, &c.— The Egyptians, and many other idolaters, did this when they mourned for their friends; defiling their bodies with slashes and cuttings, as some say, to express the extremity of grief; as others, to pacify the infernal spirits, and propitiate them for the dead. See Jeremiah 16:7. As for the marks, spoken of in the latter part of the verse, it was usual for the Zabii and others to burn marks in their bodies, that they might thus signify to what particular deities they were devoted. The greatest part of the Arabian women had their cheeks and arms marked with these stigmata; and Lucian says, that all the Assyrians bore these printed characters, some on their wrists, others on their necks: so Herodotus tells us, that he, who devoted himself to Hercules, received Στιγματα ιερα, sacred stigmata; giving up himself to that god. These marks, says Calmet, were imprinted either by a hot iron, or with a needle; with which they made several punctures, which they afterwards filled with a fine powder, of either black, blue, or some other colour, which incorporated with the flesh, and remained printed in it for all their lives after. Ptolemy Philopater gave orders, that the Jews who had forsaken their religion, and had embraced that of the pagans, should be stigmatized with the mark of an ivy-leaf, which tree is dedicated to Bacchus. See Revelation 13:16-17. Isaiah 49:16 and Galatians 1:17. Philo says, that there were men who printed characters upon their flesh with hot irons, to devote themselves more solemnly to their idols: and something of this kind was early found and still prevails among the Eastern Christians, who mark themselves with a cross; especially such as go in pilgrimage to Jerusalem. See Calmet on the word stigmata. Perhaps, says Parkhurst, the incisions which the ancient Britons made on their bodies in various shapes, and afterwards dyed with the juice of woad or kelp, were of the same idolatrous sort. These are called by Tertullian Britannorum stigmata, the marks of the Britons.

Verse 31

Leviticus 19:31. Regard not them that have familiar spirits The word האבת haobot, rendered familiar spirits, signifies conjurers, pythos; persons, says Parkhurst, who pretended to give prophetic answers, when inspired and inflated by the light and air. Virgil has described a prophetess of this kind, AEneid 6 ver. 46, &c.

——Ait, Deus, &c. "The virgin cries, the god, behold the god! And straight her visage and her colour change; Her hair's dishevell'd, and her heaving breast, And lab'ring heart, are swoll'n with sacred rage: Larger she seems, her voice no mortal sound, As the inspiring god near and more near Seizes her soul."——

This shews what the heathens meant when they spoke of their diviners being? pleni deo, full of the god: and it is evident from Acts 16:18 that the devil was sometimes permitted to take advantage of these pretendedly divine inspirations, so as really to seize and actuate the bodies of such pretenders. The learned reader, who would see more concerning this sort of diviners, may consult Leonis Allatii syntagma de engastrimutho. The word rendered wizards, comes from the verb ידע iadang, to know; and signifies those who pretended to a superior degree of knowledge in future events. See Exodus 22:18 and Leviticus 6:27.

Note; 1. Let the vain and sinful customs prohibited above admonish us of the folly and sin of fortune-telling, applying to gypsies, conjurers, &c. amulets, charms, &c. fearing cross days, or cross knives and forks, or spilt salt, and such kinds of fooleries, which are a disgrace to human nature. Shall the dregs of paganism enter amidst the profession of Christianity? To have any dependance on these alilem, (nothings,) is still, in some degree, to have fellowship with devils. 2. Though we have renounced the gods of the heathen, we must remember, that he who deludes the unwary, and sacrifices injured beauty to his own vile lusts, is the votary of these unclean spirits.

Verse 32

Leviticus 19:32. Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head The equity and excellence of this law must strike every person who hears it, and give a high idea of the wisdom and goodness of the Jewish Lawgiver. It is, indeed, one of the plainest dictates of nature to reverence our superiors in age; and we find scarcely any civilized nations who have not enforced this dictate. Among the Egyptians it was enjoined, that their young men, when they met an elder, should turn aside to give him the way, and rise up at his approach. The Lacedemonians enjoined that the aged should be honoured as parents: and Plato finely remarks (for a heathen philosopher), that young men should glory first in obeying the laws; for this is the same as obeying God: and next, in reverencing their superiors in age; those especially who have passed their days honourably: and therefore Juvenal very excellently observes, that, in the more uncorrupted ages, it was looked upon as a portentous crime for young men not to reverence the aged.

Credebant hoc grande nefas, et morte piandum, Si juvenis vetulo non assurrexerat. Sat. 13.

"They thought it such a crime, as death alone Could expiate,—if a young man did not rise Before the hoary head."

The expressive elegance of the sacred writer, thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, is well preserved in the poet. Some of the Jewish writers think that this verse enjoins three degrees of honour: one to the aged; another to the wise, the old man, by which they mean the elders or teachers of the law; and the third to the judges, whom they take to be meant by אלהיךֶ eloheika, here rendered by God. But the most probable and natural interpretation is that which refers the whole verse to superiors in age.

Verse 33

Leviticus 19:33. If a stranger sojourn with thee The reason subjoined, Leviticus 19:34 for this humanity to strangers, for ye were strangers, &c. evidently proves that strangers in general, not proselytes only to the Jewish religion, are here meant. The narrow-minded principles which the Jews in future times too strongly displayed, are no sort of objection to the generous and hospitable intention of this law.

Verse 35

Leviticus 19:35. Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, &c.— i.e. "Ye shall conduct yourselves through life, and especially in all your commerce and dealings, by the strictest rules of exact justice." It is to be observed, that, to prevent all fraud in weights and measures, the standard of them was kept in the sanctuary: compare Exodus 30:13 with 1 Chronicles 23:29. The word rendered weights, is stones in the margin of our English Bibles, because stones were used as well for weights as for plummets in building.

Note; 1. This benevolent command, that strangers are to be treated kindly. The remembrance of their own state in Egypt was to teach the Israelites to pity others. Strangers must not be oppressed, nor defrauded, nor reproached, but loved as brethren, and treated with equal affection. They who are strangers have a right to peculiar kindness: it is enough that they are removed from their domestic comforts; they need not have their absence more embittered by ill usage. 2. Justice must be observed in measures, weights, and scales. To sell less than weight or measure, is, at least, equally criminal with other acts of theft, which, though man may never discover, shall be severely visited when God weighs such in his balances, and finds them wanting. 3. All God's statutes must be observed and done; head, heart, and hand, must concur. Remember, No man sincerely obeys God who makes any reserves; and he will never really please him by obedience to any one command, who does not in simplicity seek to observe them all.


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Leviticus 19:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 20th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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