Leviticus 19 Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Leviticus 19
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
XIX.

(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—The prohibitions in the preceding chapter, which are designed to regulate the moral conduct of relations and connections towards each other in their family circles, are now followed by precepts which affect the Israelite’s life in all its bearings, both towards God and man. Hence the authorities during the second Temple regarded it as “embodying the Decalogue,” for which reason, as well as for the fact that “it contains the sum and substance of the precepts of the Law, it is read in public.” The precepts in this chapter are divided into sixteen groups, eight of which end with the emphatic reiteration, “I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:2-4; Leviticus 19:10; Leviticus 19:25; Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 19:34; Leviticus 19:36), and eight with the shorter formula, “I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:12; Leviticus 19:14; Leviticus 19:16; Leviticus 19:18; Leviticus 19:28; Leviticus 19:30; Leviticus 19:32; Leviticus 19:37).

Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.
(2) Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel.—The importance which the Lawgiver Himself attaches to this epitome of the whole Law, as this section is called, may be seen from the fact that God commands Moses to address these precepts “to all the congregation of the children of Israel—a phrase which occurs nowhere else in Leviticus in this formula, and which is only to be found once more in the whole Pentateuch (Exodus 12:3), at the institution of the Passover, the great national festival which commemorates the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt.

I the Lord your God.—Around this solemn declaration, which is repeated no less than sixteen times, both in its full and shorter form (see Leviticus 19:1), cluster the different precepts of this section. It is this solemn formula which links together the various injunctions in the chapter before us. As the Lord who is their God is Himself holy, they who are His people must also be holy, or as the saying which obtained during the second Temple expresses it, “the surroundings of the king must bear the moral impress of the sovereign;” or, in other words, your nearness to God not only demands. that your conduct should not be in contradiction to His holy nature, but that your life should bear the impress and reflect the image of God. (See Leviticus 11:44; Matthew 5:48; 1Peter 1:15.)

Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.
(3) Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father.—The first means to attain to the holiness which is to make the Israelite reflect the holiness of God, is uniformly to reverence his parents. Thus the group of precepts contained in this chapter opens with the fifth commandment in the Decalogue (Exodus 20:12), or, as the Apostle calls it, the first commandment with promise (Ephesians 6:2). During the second Temple, already the spiritual authorities called attention to the singular fact that this is one of the three instances in the Scriptures where, contrary to the usual practice, the mother is mentioned before the father; the other two being Genesis 44:20 and Leviticus 21:2. As children ordinarily fear the father and love the mother, hence they say precedence is here given to the mother in order to inculcate the duty of fearing them both alike. The expression “fear,” however, they take to include the following :—(1) Not to stand or sit in the place set apart for the parents; (2) not to carp at or oppose their statements; and (3) not to call them by their proper names, but either to call them father or mother, or my master, my lady. Whilst the expression “honour,” which is used in the parallel passage in Exodus 20:12, they understand to include (1) to provide them with food and raiment, and (2) to escort them. The parents, they urge, are God’s representatives upon earth; hence as God is both to be “honoured” with our substance (Proverbs 3:9), and as He is to be “feared” (Deuteronomy 6:13), so our parents are both to be “honoured” (Exodus 20:12) and “feared” (Leviticus 19:3); and as he who blasphemes the name of God is stoned (Leviticus 24:16), so he who curses his father or mother is stoned (Leviticus 20:9).

And keep my sabbaths.—Joined with this fifth commandment is the fourth of the Decalogue. The education of the children, which at the early stages of the Hebrew commonwealth devolved upon the parents, was more especially carried on by them on Sabbath days. In these leisure hours, when the Israelites were strictly forbidden to engage in any secular work, they found it a pleasant task and a welcome occupation to instruct their children in the many symbols, rites, and ceremonies which formed part of the service of the Sabbaths. Hence the observance of the day implied the instruction of the people in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and in acquiring the holiness which is the keynote of this chapter. Hence, too, the violation of the sanctity of the Sabbath is denounced as the greatest sin which the Israelites committed (Ezekiel 20:12; Ezekiel 22:8; Ezekiel 23:38, &c.). It is probably for this reason that the administrators of the law during the second Temple say that the commandment about the Sabbath has here been selected to limit the duty of filial obedience. Its combination with the fifth commandment is to show that though children are admonished to obey their parents, yet if they should order the profanation of this holy day, the children must not obey. (See Leviticus 23:3.)

Turn ye not unto idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God.
(4) Turn ye not unto idols.—As the Lord is their God, and there is no other God besides Him, the Israelites must never turn their affections nor address prayers or enquiries to idols. This part of the verse therefore corresponds with the first commandment of the Decalogue (Exodus 20:3). The expression here rendered “idols,” which, apart from the Prophets and Hagiographa, only occurs once more (see Leviticus 26:1), denotes non-entities—nothings, and it is in allusion to this import of the word that the Apostle remarks, “We know that an idol is nothing in the world” (1Corinthians 8:4). According to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, the injunction here “turn not” means “face not,” and forbids even the looking at or the examination of an idol.

Nor make yourselves molten gods.—This part of the verse corresponds with the second commandment in the Decalogue (Exodus 20:4-6), though the phrase “molten gods” only occurs once more where the same prohibition is enforced (Exodus 34:17).

And if ye offer a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD, ye shall offer it at your own will.
(5) And if ye offer a sacrifice.—From Leviticus 17:3-7, it will be seen that the Israelites were in the habit of sacrificing to idols the animals intended for private consumption, and that this practice gave rise to the enactment that when any of the three kinds of quadrupeds are to be slaughtered for daily meat, they should first be devoted to God as peace-offerings. Hence the transition here from the prohibition of idolatrous worship to the peace-offerings. The simple abstention from sacrifice to idols and offering them to God is not enough. If the Israelites bring a peace-offering to the Lord it must be offered in the prescribed manner.

Ye shall offer it at your own will.—Better, ye shall offer it for your acceptance (see Leviticus 1:3), that is, ye are to do it in such a manner as will secure for you the Divine acceptance.

It shall be eaten the same day ye offer it, and on the morrow: and if ought remain until the third day, it shall be burnt in the fire.
(6) It shall be eaten the same day . . . and on the morrow.—The fact that the flesh of the animal might be eaten both on the day on which it was offered and on the following day, according to the authorities during the second Temple, shows that the second class of peace-offering is here meant, described in Leviticus 8:16, since the flesh of the first class of peace-offerings had to be eaten on the same day. (See Leviticus 7:15).

Until the third day.—See Leviticus 7:17.

And if it be eaten at all on the third day, it is abominable; it shall not be accepted.
(7) If it be eaten at all on the third day.—See Leviticus 7:18.

Therefore every one that eateth it shall bear his iniquity, because he hath profaned the hallowed thing of the LORD: and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
(8) Therefore every one that eateth it.—See Leviticus 7:18-20.

That soul shall be cut off from among his people.—Better, That soul shall be cut off from his people, as the Authorised Version renders it in four out of the six instances (see Leviticus 7:20-21; Leviticus 7:25; Leviticus 7:27) in which this phrase occurs in the Book of Leviticus. When so important a legal formula, threatening death by excision, is used in a limited number of cases, it is most important that it should be rendered uniformly in a translation. (See Note on Leviticus 22:3.)

And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest.
(9) And when ye reap.—Benevolent consideration for the poor is another means whereby the Israelite is to attain to that holiness which will enable him to reflect the holiness of God. As the Lord is merciful to all, and provides for the wants of every living creature (Psalm 145:15-16), the Israelite, too, is to regard the wants of the needy. By this injunction the Law moreover establishes the legal rights of the poor to a portion of the produce of the soul, and thus releases him from private charity, which, in its exercise, might have been capricious and tyrannical.

The harvest of your land.—The expression “harvest,” which is subject to this law, the administrators of the law during the second Temple defined to consist of the following produce of the soil (1) all edible and nutritious plants, but not those used for dyeing and colouring; (2) plants which are cultivated, but not those which grow wildly; (3) those which strictly belong to the soil, but not mushrooms, sponges, &c, since these are not so much dependent upon the soil for their growth, but upon humidity, and grow also upon wet wood, &c; (4) those which ripen at the same time of the year and are all gathered in at the same time, thus excluding figs and similar fruits of trees which are gathered later and gradually, and (5) the produce which is not for immediate consumption, but is garnered up, thus excluding vegetables.

Thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field.—The extent of the “corner” to be thus left for the poor, like that of filial duty and the study of the Divine law, has designedly been left undefined by the administrators of the law. It is among the things which have “no fixed measures.” But though the maximum is not given, the minimum is stated to be no less than the sixtieth part of the field. The corner was generally left at the end of the field, so that the poor could easily get at it. The time when the poor came was morning, noon, and at the evening sacrifice, which was about three o’clock in the afternoon. The morning was intended for the accommodation of those mothers who had young children, who were then asleep; the middle of the day to accommodate the nurses, whilst the evening suited the elderly people.

The gleanings of thy harvest.—The expression “gleaning” is defined by the authorities during the second Temple to be the ears which fall from the hand or from the sickle in the time of reaping, provided that the quantity which has thus dropped from the hand of the plucker or cutter does not exceed one or two ears. When these ears have thus been dropped they belong to the proprietor and not to the gleaner. If a wind arose after the corn had all been cut, and scattered the harvest over the gleanings, the field was measured, and a certain quantity was allotted as gleanings; if the owner had gathered in all the harvest without leaving any gleanings, he was obliged to give a certain portion to the poor, though the corn had been ground into flour and baked; and if the harvest was lost or burnt after he had thus gathered it without leaving the gleanings, he was beaten with stripes.

And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.
(10) And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard.—In gathering in the vine care is to be taken only to cut off’ the large clusters, but not the infantas, as the expression literally denotes, which is here rendered by “glean.” Those branches or twigs which had only one or two grapes on them were to be left to the poor.

Neither shalt thou gather every grape.—Better, Nor shalt thou gather the scattered grapes, that is, those single grapes which had either fallen to the ground during the process of cutting off the branches, or those which were scattered about the ground after the vintage was completed. Like the gleanings of the field these grapes were the portion of the poor both of Jewish origin and proselytes.

Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.
(11) Ye shall not steal.—This injunction, which forms the eighth commandment of the Decalogue (Exodus 20:15), most probably has here a primary reference to the conduct of the owners of fields and vineyards. They are cautioned that by depriving the poor of his prescribed right to the corner of the fields, and to the gleanings of the harvest and vintage, they commit theft. Hence the Jewish canonists laid it down that he who puts a basket under a vine at the time of gathering grapes robs the poor.

And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
(12) And ye shall not swear.—This corresponds with the third commandment of the Decalogue (Exodus 20:7).

Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.
(13) Thou shalt not defraud.—Here oppression by fraud and oppression by violence are forbidden. It is probably in allusion to this passage that John the Baptist warned the soldiers who came to him: “And he said to them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14).

The wages of him that is hired.—From the declaration in the next clause, which forbids the retention of the wages over night, it is evident that the day labourer is here spoken of. As he is dependent upon his wages for the support of himself and his family, the Law protects him by enjoining that the earnings of the hireling should be promptly paid. This benign care for the labourer, and the denunciation against any attempt to defraud him, are again and again repeated in the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Jeremiah 32:13; Malachi 3:5; James 5:4). Hence the humane interpretation which obtained of this law during the second Temple: “He who treats a hireling with harshness sins as grievously as if he hath taken away life, and transgresses five precepts.”

Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.
(14) Thou shalt not curse the deaf.—To revile one who cannot hear, and is therefore unable to vindicate himself, is both inexpressibly mean and wicked. The term deaf also includes the absent, and hence out of hearing (Psalm 38:14-15). According to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, this prohibition was directed against all cursing whatsoever. For, said they, if to curse one who cannot hear, and whom, therefore, it cannot grieve, is prohibited, how much more is it forbidden to curse one who hears it, and who is both enraged and grieved by it.

Nor put a stumblingblock before the blind.—In Deuteronomy 27:18 a curse is pronounced upon those who lead the blind astray. To help those who were thus afflicted was always regarded as a meritorious act. Hence among the benevolent services which Job rendered to his neighbours, he says “I was eyes to the blind” (Job 29:15). According to the interpretation which obtained in the time of Christ, this is to be understood figuratively. It forbids imposition upon the ignorant, and misdirecting those who seek advice, thus causing them to fall. Similar tenderness to the weak is enjoined by the Apostle: “That no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” (Romans 14:13).

But shalt fear thy God.—Deafness and blindness may prevent the sufferers from detecting the offender, and bringing him to justice before an earthly tribunal, but God on high hears it when the human ear is stopped up, and sees it when the human eye is extinct. Hence the prohibition against injustice to the infirm and the poor is enforced by an appeal to fear the Lord. (See Leviticus 19:32.)

Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.
(15) Do no unrighteousness in judgment.—That is, the judges are not to abuse the authority vested in them by virtue of their office, by administering what ought to be justice in an arbitrary manner.

Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor.—The general statement in the preceding clause is here more minutely defined. The consideration for the infirm enjoined in Leviticus 19:14 is not to influence the decision of the judge, who is to administer justice, even if the poor is thereby reduced to greater poverty, and though the rich party to the suit may benevolently desire a verdict against himself to save the needy (Exodus 23:3). The authorities during the second Temple illustrate it as follows:—“If the rich man should say I am by law obliged to provide for the poor, I will therefore let him win the suit, and he will thus have his wants supplied without being subjected to the humiliation of receiving alms; for this reason it is said thou shalt not respect the person of the poor.”

Nor honour the person of the mighty.—Jewish juries, in their extreme desire to be impartial, have gone so far as to urge, that whilst the case between a rich man and a poor is being tried, they should both be dressed alike, both alike should either stand or sit, both should have the same right of speech, and both should be addressed by the judge in the same courteous manner. “If ye have respect to persons,” says the Apostle, in allusion to this passage, “ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (James 2:9, with Leviticus 19:2-4).

Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.
(16) Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer.—Better, Thou shalt not go about slandering, as the Authorised Version has it in Jeremiah 6:28; Jeremiah 9:4; Ezekiel 22:9, Margin. Whilst giving just evidence in a court of justice is demanded by the law, it prohibits the circulation of slanderous reports about our neighbours. This dangerous habit, which has ruined the character and destroyed the life of many an innocent person (1Samuel 22:9; 1Samuel 22:18; Ezekiel 22:9, &c.), was denounced by the spiritual authorities in the time of Christ as the greatest sin. Three things they declared remove a man from this world, and deprive him of happiness in the world to come—idolatry, incest, and murder, but slander surpasses them all. It kills three persons with one act, the person who slanders, the person who is slandered, and the person who listens to the slander. Hence the ancient Chaldee Version of Jonathan translates this clause: “Thou shalt not follow the thrice accursed tongue, for it is more fatal than the double-edged devouring sword.” (Comp. also Ecclesiasticus 28:14)

Neither shalt thou stand against the blood.—This part of the verse is evidently designed to express another line of conduct whereby our neighbour’s life might be endangered. In the former clause, “the going about” with slanderous reports imperilled the life of the slandered person, here “the standing still” is prohibited when it involves fatal consequences. The administrators of the law during the second Temple translating this clause literally, thou shalt not stand still by the blood, &c, interpreted it to mean that if we see any one in danger of his life, i.e., drowning, attacked by robbers or wild beasts, &c., we are not to stand still by it whilst his blood is being shed, but are to render him assistance at the peril of our own life. Or if we know that a man has shed the blood of his fellow creature, we are not to stand silently by whilst the cause is before the tribunal. Hence the Chaldee Version of Jonathan renders it, “Thou shalt not keep silent the blood of thy neighbour when thou knowest the truth in judgment.” Others, however, take it to denote to come forward, and try to obtain a false sentence of blood against our neighbours, so that this phrase is similar in import to Exodus 23:1; Exodus 23:7.

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.
(17) Shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart.—From the outward acts denounced in the preceding verse, the legislator now passes to inward feelings. Whatever wrong our neighbour has inflicted upon us, we are not to harbour hatred against him.

Thou shalt in any wise rebuke.—Better, thou shalt by all means, or thou shalt freely rebuke him. If he has done wrong he is to be reproved, and the wrong is to be brought home to him by expostulation. In illustration of this precept the Jewish canonists remark, “when any man sinneth against another he must not inwardly hate him and keep silence, as it is said of the wicked, ‘And Absalom spake unto his brother Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon’ (2Samuel 13:22); but he is commanded to make it known unto him, and to say, ‘Why hast thou done thus unto me?’” Similar is the admonition of Christ, “If thy brother sin against thee rebuke him, and if he repent forgive him” (Luke 17:3).

And not suffer sin upon him.—Better so that thou bear not sin on his account. That is, by not reproving him, but harbouring inward hatred towards the offender, we not only become partakers of his offence, but incur the sin of bearing secret ill-will (Romans 1:32; Ephesians 4:26; 1Timothy 5:20; 1Timothy 5:22). According to the spiritual authorities during the second Temple, however, this clause denotes, “but thou shalt bear no sin by reason of it,” as the Authorised Version translates this phrase in Numbers 18:32; that is, “execute the duty of reproof in such a manner that thou dost not incur sin by it,” which they explain in the following manner: “Even if the reproof is ineffectual the first time, it must be repeated over and over again, but the rebuker must desist as soon as he sees blushes on the offender’s face, for it shows that the reproofs have made an impression. Every step taken by the one who reproves, after the offender has thus indicated by his countenance that he realises the offence, is an unnecessary humiliation, and hence brings sin upon him who rebukes by reason of it.”

Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.
(18) Thou shalt not avenge.—As the preceding verse enjoins upon us to reprove the offender, this verse forbids us to avenge the wrong even when the rebuke has proved ineffectual, thus demanding the greatest sacrifice on the part of the injured person. The administrators of the law during the second Temple illustrate what is meant by avenge by the following example. “When a disobliging person who is in need applies to you to lend him something, and you reply, ‘I will not lend you even as you would not lend me,’ this is to avenge.” (Comp. also Romans 12:19.)

Nor bear any grudge.—The law goes further still. It enjoins that the injured man is to banish from memory the injury he has suffered, though the offender has made no reparation. The spiritual authorities during the time of Christ regarded the simple reference to the injury when a kindly act is performed to our adversary as a violation of this injunction. They illustrated it by the following example. When an adversary applies to you to lend him something, and you actually comply with his request, but in so doing you say, “I lend it you, I will not act as you have acted, for you have refused to lend me,” this is a violation of the command not to bear any grudge. “He who at the reconciliation with his adversary readily forgives his transgressions, his own trespasses will also be readily forgiven in the day of judgment,” is the oft-repeated precept of the sages during the second Temple. Again, “He who suffers injuries and does not return injury for injury, he who is reviled? 1 does not revile again, fulfils acts of love and rejoice in suffering; of him it is said, ‘Those that love him are like the sun, which comes forth in its might from all dark clouds beaming with light’” (Judges 5:31).

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.—This sublime precept formed the centre around which clustered the ethical systems propounded by some of the most distinguished Jewish teachers during the second Temple. When Hillel was asked by one who wished to learn the sum and substance of the Divine Law in the shortest possible time, this sage replied by giving a paraphrase of the precept before us in a negative form, “What thou dost not wish that others should do to thee, that do not thou to others; this is the whole Law, the rest is only its interpretation. Now go and learn.” Christ gives it in the positive form (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31; Romans 13:8-10).

Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.
(19) Ye shall keep my statutes—that is, the following ordinances, which though not of the same high moral nature as the precepts laid down in the preceding verses, are yet necessary to attain to holiness. The Holy God has made everything “after its kind” (Genesis 1:11-12; Genesis 1:21; Genesis 1:24-25, &c.), and has thus established a physical distinction in the order of His creation. For man to bring about a union of dissimilar things is to bring about a dissolution of the Divine laws and to act contrary to the ordinances of Him who is holy, and to whose holiness we are to attain.

Cattle gender with a diverse kind.—Such commixtures would not only contravene the Divine order of things, but would lessen the abhorrence of the crime prohibited in Leviticus 18:22-23. The use, however, of animals produced from such mixtures was not forbidden. Hence we find that mules were largely employed by the Jews (2Samuel 13:29; 2Samuel 18:9; 1Kings 1:33; 1Kings 1:38; 1Kings 10:25; 1Kings 18:5; Ezra 2:66, &c.). These hybrids were either the issue of parents voluntarily coming together without the aid of the Israelites, or were imported from other countries. This law is binding upon the Jews to this day in every country where they happen to live, whether in Palestine or out of it.

Not sow thy field with mingled seed.—According to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, the prohibition is only applicable to diverse seeds for human food, mixed together for the purpose of sowing them in the same field, as, for instance, wheat and barley, beans and lentils. These an Israelite must neither sow himself nor allow a non-Israelite to do it for him. Seeds of grain and seeds of trees, as well as seeds of different kinds of trees, may be sown together. The opening words of the parable, “A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard” (Luke 13:6), do not contravene this law. Seeds which were not intended for human food, such as of bitter herbs, or of vegetables intended for drugs, were exempted from this law, and like the hybrids of mixed parents, the seeds of herbs sown with diverse kinds were allowed to be used. Unlike the law, however, about the commixture of animals, which, as we have seen, is of universal application, the law about mixed seeds was only applicable to the Holy Land, since the command here is, “thou shalt not sow thy field” which these authorities maintain means “the fields of their inheritance in the promised land. Though trees are not mentioned here, the law was applied to grafting. Hence it was forbidden to graft an apple-tree on a citron-tree, or herbs into trees. The fruit, however, which grew upon the trees of such graftings was allowed to be eaten. The law about the diverse graftings is binding upon the Jews in every country and to all ages.

A garment mingled of linen and woollen.—Not only is it forbidden to weave woollen and flaxen threads together into one material to make wearing apparel of it, but according to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, an Israelite must not mend a woollen garment with a flaxen thread, and vice versâ. One of the reasons which the ancient canonists assign for this prohibition is that “wool and linen were appointed for the priests alone.” This law is observed by the orthodox Jews to this day. The law laid down in this verse is substantially repeated in Deuteronomy 22:9-11.

And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free.
(20) And whosoever lieth.—Better, If a man lie, as the same phrase is translated in the Authorised Version, Leviticus 22:14; Leviticus 24:19; Leviticus 25:29; Leviticus 27:14.

Betrothed to an husband.—Better, betrothed to a man. From the law about the mixed seeds the Lawgiver passes to heterogeneous alliances. The case here legislated for is that of seducing a bondwoman who is espoused to another man. This bondwoman might be either one of an intermediate kind, that is, one whose redemption money had been partially paid, or belong to that class who had no prospect of a free discharge. According to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, the case before us is that of a Canaanitish maid, partly free and partly servile, whom her master had espoused to a Hebrew slave. (See Exodus 21:4.)

And not at all redeemed.—Better, not fully or entirely redeemed, that is, only part of her redemption money had been paid, so that she was partly free and partly slave. According to the law which obtained during the second Temple, the espousal of such a woman was not legally complete, and hence she is not properly a married woman or the wife of another man.

Nor freedom given her.—That is, the legal document that she is a free woman and has ceased to be a slave. This was done upon payment of the full money, or of her master’s free choice without redemption money at all. In either case, however, she was then only legally free when she received the bill of freedom. Hence the ancient Chaldee Version translates this clause, “Nor has freedom been given her by a bill of dismission.”

She shall be scourged.—Literally, there shall be visitation or inquisition; then, as is frequently the case, the effect of this visitation or requisition, i.e., punishment, which, according to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, consisted in giving the woman forty stripes with the thong of an ox-hide. This punishment, however, she only received when it was proved that she was a consenting party to the sin. Hence the rendering in the Authorised Version, “she shall be scourged.” The Marginal rendering,” they shall be scourged,” though supported by some ancient Versions, is contrary to the legislation during the second Temple. The punishment prescribed in this clause is for the woman alone, the man’s punishment follows in the next verse.

They shall not be put to death.—As she was a slave, and her espousals were illegal, the punishment of death, which was ordinarily inflicted in cases of adultery or seduction of a free woman betrothed to a man (see Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:23), was not inflicted on them.

And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, even a ram for a trespass offering.
(21) And he shall bring his trespass offering.—Unlike the woman, the man had to bring this sacrifice under any circumstances, whether he sinned ignorantly or presumptuously. She was exempted from offering a sacrifice because she was her master’s property, and not being her own, she had no property.

Unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.—Better, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, whither all the sacrifices were brought. (See Leviticus 17:4-5.) The ram here prescribed was the usual animal for such a sacrifice. (See Leviticus 5:17-18.)

And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he hath done: and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him.
(22) And the priest shall make an atonement.—Having offered the trespass offering according to the prescribed ritual by the priest, the sinner expiated for his sin, and was declared free by the officiating son of Aaron. (See Leviticus 4:20; Leviticus 4:26.)

And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of.
(23) And when ye shall come.—Rather, And when ye be come, as the Authorised Version renders the same phrase in Leviticus 14:34. This is one of the four instances in Leviticus of a law being given prospectively having no immediate bearing on the condition of the people of Israel (viz., Leviticus 14:34; Leviticus 19:23; Leviticus 23:10; Leviticus 25:2), and though all the four enactments are introduced by the same phrase, they are translated in three different ways in the Authorised Version:—“When ye be come into the land,” in Leviticus 14:34; Leviticus 23:10; “When ye shall come into the land,” in Leviticus 19:23; and “When ye come into the land,” in Leviticus 25:2; thus giving the impression as if the phrases in the original were different in the different passages. In legislative formulae it is of importance to exhibit uniformly the same phraseology in a translation.

Shall have planted all manner of trees for food.—From this declaration the administrators of the law during the second Temple inferred that the trees planted by the inhabitants of Canaan before the Israelites took possession of it, were exempt from this law, and that it only applies to fruit-trees intended for food, such as citron-trees, olive-trees, fig-trees, vines, &c. Trees which bore fruit unfit for human food, which grew up by themselves, or which were planted for hedges or timber, did not come under this law.

Then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised.—Literally, then shall ye circumcise its uncircumcision, its fruit, that is, cut off or pinch off its uncircumcision, which the text itself explains as “its fruit.” The metaphorical use of circumcision is thus explained by the text itself: it denotes the fruit as disqualified or unfit. In Leviticus 26:41 the same metaphor is used for the heart which is stubborn or not ripe to listen to the Divine admonitions. And in other passages of Scripture it is used with reference to lips (Exodus 6:12; Exodus 6:30) and ears (Jeremiah 6:10) which do not perform their proper functions.

Three years shall it be.—The cutting off of the fruit is to be repeated every year during three successive years. As the produce of the earliest year when let to grow upon the trees is both stunted and tasteless, and, moreover, as by plucking off the fruit or pinching off the blossom the trees will thrive better and bear more abundantly afterwards, the Lawgiver enacts here as law that which was in vogue amongst careful husbandmen from time immemorial, thus debarring greedy owners from acting in a way which would ultimately be to their own material injury.

It shall not be eaten.—According to the authorities in the time of Christ, this interdict extended to any and every advantage to be derived from the first three years’ produce. The fruits must not be sold, but must either be burnt, or buried in the ground; and if any one eat as much as an olive he received forty stripes save one.

But in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy to praise the LORD withal.
(24) But in the fourth year.—Like the second tithes the fruits of the fourth year were taken up to Jerusalem, and there eaten by the owner, in company with the poor and needy whom he invited to the repast. The owner, however, was also allowed to redeem them. In this case he had to add the fifth part of their value, take up the money to the holy city, and there spend it in a repast to which he invited the poor. The grapes of the vineyards within a distance of a day’s journey of Jerusalem had, however, to be taken up to decorate the streets of the holy city. Vineyards of the fourth year were exempt from the law laid down in Leviticus 19:9-10 as well as from the law of first-fruits, tithes, and second tithes.

Shall be holy to praise the Lord withal.—Better, shall be holy, a praise to the Lord, that is, either the fruits themselves, or their equivalent in money, shall be spent in the holy city, thus offering them at this sacrificial repast in praise to the Lord. (Comp. Judges 9:27.)

And in the fifth year shall ye eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you the increase thereof: I am the LORD your God.
(25) And in the fifth year.—It was only in the fifth year that the owner was permitted to eat the fruits without redeeming them.

That it may yield unto you the increase thereof.—That is, refraining from using the fruits during the first three years, and consecrating to the Lord the fruit of the fourth year in the sacrificial repast, they will realise that hereafter the tree will yield them abundant fruit. So far, therefore, from being losers by waiting till the fifth year, they will actually be gainers.

Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times.
(26) Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood.—According to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, there are no less than five different things forbidden here. It prohibits (1) eating the flesh of a legally slaughtered animal as long as its life is not quite gone, or whilst the flesh is still trembling; (2) eating the flesh of sacrificial animals whilst the blood is still in the sprinkling bowl, and before it has been sprinkled on the altar; (3) eating the meat of mourners by the relatives when a member of the family has been publicly executed, and his blood has been shed; (4) eating anything by the judicial court on the day when their sentence of death is being executed on the criminal; and (5) it warns the rebellious and gluttonous son not to eat immoderately by the penalty of blood.” The ancient Chaldee Version, therefore, which translates it “Ye shall not eat the flesh of any sacrifice whilst the blood is in the basin unsprinkled,” exhibits the second of these prohibitions involved in this interpretation; and all the five premise the rendering of this phrase, “Ye shall not eat by the blood,” which has the merit of being literal; whilst the Authorised Version follows the first of these five prohibitions. Others, again, who also translate it “Ye shall not eat by the blood,” take it as a prohibition of the idolatrous practice which obtained among the Zabii, who, to obtain favour from the demons, gathered the blood of the sacrifices which they offered to them into a vessel or a hole dug in the earth, and then sat around it to consume the sacrificial meal by the blood, thinking that thereby they fraternised with these demons. This seems to be favoured by the next clause.

Neither shall ye use enchantment.- Better, ye shall use no enchantment. According to the authorities during the second Temple, this consisted in any one saying, “A morsel has dropped out of my mouth; the staff has fallen out of my hand; my child has called out behind me; a crow has cawed to me; a deer has crossed my path; a serpent crept on my right hand; a fox has gone by on my left;” and regarding these as bad omens for the day which has now began or for the work which he has just commenced. Or if he says to the man who raises the taxes, “Do not begin with me; it is still early in the day; it is the first of the month; it is the beginning of the week; I shall be unlucky the whole day, week, or month to be the first to be burdened;” this is enchantment.

Nor observe times.—This, according to the same authorities, consists in “taking notice of the seasons and days, and in saying this is a good day to begin a journey, to-morrow will be lucky to make a purchase.”

Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.
(27) Round the corners of your heads.—That is, they are not to shave off the hair around the temples and behind the ears, so as to leave the head bald except a dish-like tuft upon the crown, thus imparting to their heads the form of a hemisphere. This was done by the Arabs, and other worshippers of the god Orotal. Hence the Arabs are ironically called “those with the corner of their hair polled,” as it is rightly rendered in the Margin (Jeremiah 9:26; Jeremiah 25:23; Jeremiah 49:32).

Mar the corners of thy beard.—The beard was regarded by the Hebrews and other eastern nations as the greatest ornament of a man, and was as dear to them as life itself. It was the object of salutation (2Samuel 20:9), and the mutilation of it was looked upon as the greatest disgrace and most degrading punishment (2Samuel 10:4; Isaiah 7:20; Ezra 5:1-5, &c.). It was only in seasons of sorrow that the Hebrews neglected their beards; and sometimes, to show how deeply they were afflicted, they covered them up, or even cut them off, or tore them out (2Samuel 19:24; Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 41:5, &c.). Because it was so precious a treasure, it was customary among some of the ancients to present to their gods the firstlings of their beards. The prohibition before us alludes to this practice.

Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.
(28) Cuttings in your flesh for the dead.—It was not only the custom for mourners to let their hair grow long and wear it in a disorderly manner (see Leviticus 10:6), but the bereaved in the East to this day make cuts and incisions in their bodies in mourning for the dead. The Israelite, however, who is created in the image of God, and who is to be as holy as the Lord is holy, must not thus disfigure his body (see Leviticus 21:6; Deuteronomy 14:1, &c.); he must not sorrow as others which have no hope. For transgressing this law the offender received forty stripes save one.

Nor print any marks upon you.—This, according to the ancient authorities, was effected by making punctures in the skin to impress certain figures or words, and then filling the cut places with stibium, ink, or some other colour. The practice of tattooing prevailed among all nations of antiquity, both among savages and civilised nations, The slave had impressed upon his body the initials of his master, the soldier those of his general, and the worshipper the image of his tutelar deity. To obviate this disfiguration of the body which bore the impress of God’s image, and yet to exhibit the emblem of his creed, the Mosaic Law enacted that the Hebrew should have phylacteries which he is to bind as “a sign” upon his hand, and as “a memorial” between his eyes “that the Lord’s law may be in his mouth” (Exodus 13:9; Exodus 13:16; Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18).

Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.
(29) Do not prostitute thy daughter.—This refers to the degrading worship of Astarte which prevailed in ancient times, and which at times also broke out among the Jews.

Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.
(30) Ye shall keep my sabbaths.—The greatest safeguard against the above-named abomination, and the surest way to fulfil the Divine commands, is by keeping the Sabbath day, and following the instruction imparted on this day of rest. (See Leviticus 19:3.)

And reverence my sanctuary—which the Israelites frequented on the Sabbath. (See Exodus 35:3.) The way to reverence the sanctuary, according to the definition of the Jewish canonists, was for an Israelite not to come into the sanctuary when legally defiled, not to ascend the mountain of the house of God with his staff in his hand, with his shoes on his feet, in his working clothes, with the dust on his feet, or carrying bags of money about his person, not to spit in the sacred precincts, or make them a thoroughfare. It is in reference to the last-mentioned rule that we are told Christ “would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the Temple” (Mark 11:16)—He would not allow them to use the sacred precincts as a short cut.

Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.
(31) Regard not.—Better, Turn ye not unto, as the Authorised Version renders this very phrase in Leviticus 19:4.

Them that have familiar spirits.—This phrase represents the single word oboth in the original, and the translators of our Authorised Version by adopting it implied that those who practised this craft were supposed to be attended by an invisible spirit who was subject to their call to supply them with supernatural information. According to the authorities during the second Temple it denotes one who has a spirit speaking from under his arm-holes, or chest, with a hollow voice, as if it came out of a bottle, which is the meaning of ob in Job 32:19. They identified it with the spirit of Python, by which the ancient Chaldee Version renders it.

Neither seek after wizards.—The expression “wizard,” which in old English denotes “wise man,” “sage,” is almost the exact equivalent of the word in the original. These cunning men pretended to tell people their fortunes, where their lost property was to be found, &c. According to ancient tradition, these wizards took in their mouth a bone of a certain bird called yaduā, burned incense, thus producing fumes which sent them off into an ecstacy, and then foretold future events. Hence their name, yidonee, as it is in the original. It occurs eleven times in the Bible, and always together with the word translated “familiar spirit.”

Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.
(32) Rise up before the hoary head.—But though no regard is to be paid to these soothsayers and cunning men, the greatest reverence is to be shown to the aged, for “with the old is wisdom, and in length of days understanding” (Job 12:12; Job 32:7, &c.). If we, therefore, are to attain to the holiness which, as it is set forth in the beginning of this chapter, is to reflect the holiness of God, we must have reverence for the ancients, since God himself is called “the Ancient of days” (Daniel 7:9; Daniel 7:13; Daniel 7:22). This precept, which is so often inculcated in Holy Writ, is beautifully enforced in the maxims of the authorities during the second Temple. “He who receives and takes care of an old man is rewarded as if he received and sought God,” is one of their sayings. Again, “Prophets are only believed if they come armed with Divine miracles, but old men always.” To this day, when, among the orthodox Jews, an aged person enters into a house where young people are, they all rise up, and will not sit down till he asks them to do it. An exception, however, is made with regard to workmen. When an aged person passes by artisans who are en. gaged in their work, they need not stand up, and thus be interrupted in their labour.

And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.
(33) And if a stranger sojourn with thee.—The stranger, for whose benefit the legislators enacted so many humane and benign laws, and with regard to whom the book of Leviticus has laid down so many precepts, is one of non-Jewish origin, but who had joined the Jewish faith. He had, therefore, to undergo the rite of circumcision; he had to fast on the great Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29); he had to submit to the regulations about sacrifices (Leviticus 17:8-9; Leviticus 22:18); he had to abstain from eating blood and the flesh of animals torn by wild beasts (Leviticus 22:10; Leviticus 22:15); he had to practise the laws of chastity (Leviticus 18:26); like the Israelite by birth, he had to refrain from blasphemy, and obey the moral precepts (Leviticus 24:16-22). These were some of the conditions of his sojourning in the land.

Ye shall not vex him.—Having once been admitted into the community, the Israelites were forbidden to upbraid him with his nationality or throw at him the fact that he was originally an idolater. They are thus prohibited calling him foreigner or neophyte, a practice which every civilised nation and religious community are prone more or less to indulge in to this day, with regard to aliens and those who have embraced their faith.

But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
(34)But the stranger that dwelleth.—Better, The stranger that sojourneth. The word “but” is not in the original, and its insertion mars the flow of the passage, whilst the expression rendered in the Authorised Version by “dwelleth” is the same which is translated “sojourn in the preceding verse. This stranger is in every respect to be treated as any other member of the commonwealth, and as a native.

Shalt love him as thyself.—He is not simply to be treated with consideration and courtesy because he is a foreigner, and enjoy the rights and receive the justice due to every human being, but he is to be put on a perfect equality with the ordinary Israelite. Hence the precept laid down in Leviticus 19:18, “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” is here enacted with regard to the stranger. It was this humane law which attracted so many strangers to Palestine. Hence we find that in the days of Solomon there were 153,600 strangers in the Holy Land.

For ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.—To enforce these kindly sentiments towards strangers, which was so contrary to the practice of the surrounding nations, who had an inveterate hatred of all foreigners, the lawgiver appeals to their own bitter experience. They knew with what inhumanity they were treated in Egypt because they were strangers, how they had been humiliated and reduced to slavery. The very thought of this will not only soften their hearts, but will enable them to see that the safety of all classes consists in basing our legislation upon the principle of equal rights to all inhabitants. This pathetic appeal is to be found three times more in the Pentateuch to enforce this precept (Exodus 22:20; Exodus 23:9; Deuteronomy 10:19).

Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure.
(35) Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment.—It will be seen that the Lawgiver uses here exactly the same phrase with regard to meting out right measure which he used in connection with the administration of justice in Leviticus 19:15. He, therefore, who declares that a false measure is a legal measure is, according to this law, as much a corrupt judge, and defrauds the people by false judgment, as he who in the court of justice wilfully passes a wrong sentence. Owing to the fact that men who would otherwise disdain the idea of imposition often discard their scruples in the matter of weights and measures, the Bible frequently brands these dealings as wicked, and an abomination to the Lord, whilst it designates the right measure as coming from God himself (Deuteronomy 25:13; Deuteronomy 25:15; Ezekiel 45:10; Ezekiel 45:12; Hosea 12:8; Amos 8:5; Micah 6:10-11; Proverbs 11:1; Proverbs 16:11; Proverbs 20:10; Proverbs 20:23). According to the authorities during the second Temple, he who gives false weight or measure, like the corrupt judge, is guilty of the following five things. He (1) defiles the land; (2) profanes the name of God; (3) causes the Shechinah to depart; (4) makes Israel perish by the sword, and (5) to go into captivity. Hence they declared that “the sin of illegal weights and measures is greater than that of incest, and is equivalent to the sin of denying that God redeemed Israel out of Egypt.” They appointed public overseers to inspect the weights and measures all over the country; they prohibited weights to be made of iron, lead, or other metal liable to become lighter by wear or rust, and ordered them to be made of polished rock, of glass, &c, and enacted the severest punishment for fraud.

Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.
(36) Just balances, just weights.—That is, they were to be the same for buying as for selling.

Just ephah.—The ephah is the dry measure, and contained ten omers. (See Leviticus 14:10.) It is the same measure as the bath is for liquids.

A just hin.—The hin, which was a measure for liquids, contained as much as seventy-two hen’s eggs. These two measures are here used as representative, including all other measures.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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Leviticus 18
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