William Kelly Major Works Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,Leviticus Chapter 18
ISRAEL'S DUTY IN NATURAL RELATIONS,
Here Aaron and his sons appear. Jehovah communicated to Moses what he was to charge on the people in general. They had left the house of bondage behind with its idols and impurities; they were to enter Canaan where and when the cup of the iniquity of the Amorites was full. They were a people redeemed externally at least, sheltered from divine judgment even in Egypt by the blood of the paschal lamb, and delivered by divine energy through the Red Sea which swallowed up the world's adverse power. Yet were they meanwhile in the wilderness, but with Jehovah their leader on march, and dwelling in their midst wherever they sojourned.
His dealings up to Sinai were in pure grace (spite of constant unbelief and complaint). If they murmured at the bitter water after three days of thirst, Jehovah smote none but showed Moses that which made them sweet. When they murmured for hunger, Jehovah gave them bread from heaven and in double measure on the sixth day to mark the sabbath of rest. When again they murmured for water, Moses at Jehovah's call struck the rock at Horeb, and water flowed abundantly. Then Amalek came and Joshua fought, but Israel, however assured, prevailed only while the hands of Moses were held up. The beautiful pledge of the Kingdom closes in righteous order. All changes in Ex. 19; for Israel, instead of owning their utter weakness and pleading the promises of grace, boldly undertake to stand on their obedience of the law, i.e. on their own righteousness: the sure proof that they knew aright neither God nor themselves, the sad token of ruin ever to grow worse and worse.
Still there they were His people as no other nation was. His choice and their redemption were as plain facts as the judgment He had executed for their deliverance on the greatest of the then kingdoms of the earth. As such Jehovah had brought Israel to Himself; but confiding in themselves, they had accepted the condition of keeping His covenant for their standing and blessing. This became the basis of their obligations. They were in relationship with Him as His people on earth, with His law as the rule which bound them in all respects. Obedience is a duty; but to rest life or blessing on it was fatal. Law thus became for sinful man a ministry of death and condemnation.
" 1 And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, 2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, I [am] Jehovah your God. 3 After the doings of the land of Egypt wherein ye dwelt, ye shall not do; and after the doings of the land of Canaan whither I bring you, ye shall not do; neither shall ye walk in their customs. 4 Mine ordinances shall ye do and my statutes shall ye observe to walk therein: I [am] Jehovah your God. 5And ye shall observe my statutes and my judgments, by which the man that doeth them shall live: I [am] Jehovah" (vers. 1-5).
It is of all moment to apprehend that on this ground no sinner can live: he needs to be justified by faith in Jesus the only Saviour. For this reason the apostle in Galatians 3:11-12 quotes the last of these verses to set the position under law in contrast with faith. "But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident; for the just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith; but he that doeth them shall live by (or, in virtue of) them." Indeed he had already in ver. 10 laid down the still more sweeping sentence that "as many as are by (or, on the principle of) works of law are under curse," founding it on Deuteronomy 27:26. Let the reader weigh the striking fact here recorded. Silence is kept as to the blessings declared on mount Gerizim: all these were in vain. But the curses on mount Ebal stand in all their solemnity.
The law was given, not for sinful man to gain life thereby, but to learn that in such a way it was impossible. Law can only curse sinners, and sinners Israel and all men are. By faith the elders, like ourselves, obtained witness of being righteous; for faith ever rests, not on self but Christ, as Abel did and every saint that followed him. Before the law God gave promises of unconditional favour to the fathers; but the children forgot them, and boldly undertook to live by obeying the law, and so, when they transgressed and rebelled as they did' increasingly incurred the curse. Such as looked on to the coming Messiah, renouncing self-confidence, and owning their sins, were justified by God's grace, even as the fathers. For when man fell, God revealed the Seed of woman as Satan's destroyer, the resource and object of faith.
The law was as absolutely right, as man and favoured Israel were thoroughly wrong. On the ground of law sinful man could only meet with death and condemnation. But man is blind both as to God and as to himself, and having no confidence in His grace, willingly accepts earning life by his well-doing. As he did not believe, he must learn to his cost that in the things of God he is as weak as he is ungodly (Romans 5:9). Through law is not acquirement of righteousness but knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20). The law also works out wrath, and thereby the offence abounds. As the sting of death is the law, so is the law the power of sin. But Christ only is the Saviour whom God made sin for us in His atoning death; which glorified God even as to sin, and left Him free to display His grace to the uttermost for all that believe on His Son.
Hence the Christian rests in a new righteousness, not man's as Israel pretended to and are now suffering the consequence of their failure, and yet more for rejecting their own Messiah. It is now God's righteousness apart from law that is manifested, God's righteousness through faith of Jesus Christ unto all (Gentile no less than Jew), and upon all that believe (whoever they be and whatever they may have been); for there is no difference, let the unbelieving pride of man conceive what it will on its own behalf. For all sinned and do come short of God's glory: being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God set forth a propitiatory through faith in His blood, unto showing forth His righteousness because of the passing over (or, prζtermission of) the sins that had been before in His forbearance; for showing His righteousness in the present time that He might be just and justifier of him that is of faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26). Thus was boasting excluded. The Christian confesses his ruin by sin and his own sins, but has faith in Him Who suffered once for sins that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).
Hence too Christian responsibility is not less real than the Israelite's, but is wholly different. He has life eternal in Christ Who gives it to him; he comes not into judgment which Christ bore for him; and he has passed from death into life. The blood of Christ has cleansed him from every sin, so that he knows himself white as snow in God's sight. He is God's son through faith in Christ Jesus, and sealed with the Holy Spirit given to him, crying, Abba, Father. He is a member of Christ's body in union with the heavenly Head. All this and more create a responsibility not only altogether distinct from that of Israel, but far beyond what the saints had before Christ's redemption and the gift of the indwelling Spirit. For duties depend on relationship; and as the Christian is by grace brought into an entirely new place in Christ, so are we expressly regarded (Ephesians 2:10) as created in Him for good works, prepared before that we should walk in them. The measure and character of Israel's place, excellent as it was, is wholly short of and quite different from ours.
But we may notice in the prefatory words of our chapter how Israel were warned against the doings of both Egypt and Canaan. They were far from deriving a single good institution from the one they left or the other among whom they came. Jehovah's ordinances and statutes they were to observe and walk in: the man that did these should live. When in fact they turned from Him in disobedience, the evil ways of those both were their utter ruin.
ABHORRENT MIXTURE OF RELATIONS.
The divine prohibition in this portion of our chapter refers to near relations and rests simply on the divine will and authority: "I am Jehovah." Marriage was not, save at the beginning, to unite "one's own flesh," naturally united or near already.
"6 None of you shall approach to all (or, any) flesh of his flesh to uncover nakedness: I [am] Jehovah. 7 The nakedness of thy father, and the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover (she [is] thy mother); thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. 8 The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it [is] thy father's nakedness. 9 The nakedness of thy sister, daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, born at home or born abroad, their nakedness thou shalt not uncover. 10 The nakedness of thy son's daughter or of thy daughter's daughter, their nakedness thou shalt not uncover; for theirs [is] thy nakedness. 11 The nakedness of thy father's wife's daughter, begotten of thy father (she [is] thy sister), thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. 12 The nakedness of thy father's sister shalt thou not uncover; she [is] thy father's own flesh. 13 The nakedness of thy mother's sister shalt thou not uncover; for she [is] thy mother's own flesh. 14 The nakedness of thy father's brother shalt thou not uncover; thou shalt not approach his wife: she [is] thine aunt. 15 The nakedness of thy daughter-in-law shalt thou not uncover (she [is] thy son's wife); thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. 16 The nakedness of thy brother's wife shalt thou not uncover; it [is] thy brother's nakedness. 17 The nakedness of a woman and her daughter shalt thou not uncover; thou shalt not take her son's daughter, nor her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness (they tare] her own flesh): it [is] wickedness. 18 And thou shalt not take a wife to her sister, to vex [her] (or, be a rival), to uncover her nakedness, beside her during her life" (vers. 6-18).
The opening is singularly emphatic, "Man, man, etc." This the Septuagint follows closely. Man's attention is called for. Marriage is only honourable where God's will is observed. Hebrews 13:4 in no way sanctions or sanctifies a forbidden union. The true rendering is, Let marriage be honourable (not "among all" as the Revisers say, but) "in all things," and the bed be undefiled. The construction is alike before and after. It is an injunction, not an affirmation as in the A.V. with Wiclif, Cranmer, and the Geneva translators. The Rhemish is an ungrammatical evasion, meant to correspond with the Vulgate, which would seem to take the Greek like the Peschito, Wiclif, etc. Tyndale alone was right. Against unions or licences, such as are here indicated, Jehovah sets His face. His name from beginning to end of the chapter is the solemn warrant against them all. If an Israelite allowed passion to carry him away, it was rebellion against Jehovah and at his own peril.
But in these near relationships marriage was unnatural and dishonourable in the measure of the nearness. And that intercourse which was proper to the married tie, forbidden in every case outside it, was here sinful and shameful in the highest degree, whether in the superior place of father or mother, and the nearest on either side, or in the equal one of sister howsoever born, or in the inferior one of daughter-in-law. And who would be bold enough to deny that the corresponding ones, not here specified, are not really implied? It is the man who is here prohibited: surely the woman is so no less. Further, the prohibition goes beyond blood-relations and extends in like degree to those by marriage connection. Of great moment it was to cultivate the warmest affection between all that stood together in near kin or connection. But still more was it essential that their mutual love should be ordered in all purity.
There was a marked exception requisite to keep up tribal inheritance in Israel, which though existing elsewhere applied to no other people as to them, still less to a Christian; a Levirate or brother in-law marriage. It was when a man died childless, and his brother or next of kin was called to raise up seed to the deceased, the aim being to bind up the family line and the inheritance; so much this, that if the nearer kinsman refused, the widow was entitled publicly to loose his shoe and spit in his face.
Verse 17 shows that the prohibition goes beyond this to the incongruous and unnatural intercourse with a woman and her daughter, or her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter, though all strangers to him. And verse 18 forbids an Israelite to have two sisters together, for the reason assigned. Christianity goes to the root of the matter by recalling, as our Lord did, to what was at the beginning when God made one man and one woman. If a man lost his wife by death, he was not only free to marry another but might find it his duty for the children's sake or his own.
OTHER ABOMINATIONS FORBIDDEN.
But there is uncleanness through other. causes, and viler abominations contrary to nature, against which Jehovah warns. It may be painful to read; but it is wholesome to learn what human nature fell into among heathen races so civilized as in Egypt and Canaan; and God knew that His people, when slighting His word, might follow them both.
" 19 And thou shalt not approach a woman in the separation of her uncleanness to uncover her nakedness. 20 And thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife to become unclean with her. 21 And thou shalt not give of thy seed to let them pass through [the fire] to Molech, nor shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I [am] Jehovah. 22 And thou shalt not lie with mankind as one lieth with womankind: it [is] abomination. 23 And thou shalt not lie with any beast to become unclean therewith; and a woman shall not stand before a beast to lie down "herewith: it [is] confusion. 24 Make not yourselves unclean in any of these things; for in all these have made themselves unclean the nations which I cast out from before you. 25 And the land hath become unclean: and I visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land vomiteth out its inhabitants. 26 But ye shall] observe my statutes and my judgments, and shall] not do any of all these abominations, - the home. born and the stranger that sojourneth among you 27 (for all these abominations have the men of the land done, who [were] before you, and the land hath been made unclean); 28 that the land vomit not you out also, when ye make it unclean, as it vomited out the, nation that was before you. 29 For whosoever shall do any of these abominations, the souls that do [them] shall be cut off from among their people. 30 Therefore shall ye observe my charge, that ye do not [any] of these abominable customs which were done before you; end ye shall not make yourselves unclean therein: I [am] Jehovah your God" (19-30).
Here is a somewhat different character of defilement, but leading on to still viler abominations, on none of which need one dwell, though assured God is wise and holy in every word He lays down. Indeed the Epistle to the Hebrews (13: 4) calls the Christian Jews, and in principle all concerned, to take heed, in terms which take in verses 19, 20 of our chapter. Marriage is to be honourable in all respects, as well as among all of course. Christian light and love is meant to pervade even the most intimate of relationships, and cleanse from every defilement of flesh and spirit; of Jews and of Gentiles we need to be reminded that the Lord is the avenger of all such wrongs.
Then we have a transition from wives to children, and that most inhuman rite in which parents were so blinded of Satan as to devote their offspring sacrificially to Molech or Moloch, and probably Malcham or Milcom. It was the tutelary God of the Ammonites; and Chemosh, the deity of the Moabites, differed little from it, Fόrst making the name signify "fire," as Molech, etc., mean "King." From Jeremiah 19:5 it appears that Baal was worshipped thus. It was widespread under various idols over the earth; and how awful the fact that Solomon yielded to his heathen wives, and went after Ashtoreth, the licentious goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom or Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, and built a high place for Chemosh, that of Moab! The greatest science and learning, the highest civilization and luxury, can in no way hinder this, if they do not help it on; and the day hastens, when the Jews, now so staunch apparently against every idol, will fall under strange gods, and set up a man as God in His temple, drawing apostate Christendom into this fatal revolt, all the more guilty on the part of those called to worship the Father and the Son in Spirit.
This verse 21 is but one of many solemn prohibitions of a horror, which prevailed down to Josiah's days, as Ahaz was a notable patron of it long before. Some have reasoned on "passing through the fire," as here and elsewhere, to deny the burning of their seed: but this seems a kindly effort to soften the reality of the wickedness. It was the fullest, though not the only, profanation of the name of Israel's God. Jehovah accepted a sheep or an ox, or even a much smaller sacrifice; Satan under these names demanded their sons.
The unnatural brutalities of verses 22, 23, are plain enough; but it may not be known how unblushingly they were perpetrated among the heathen, even by the Greeks and the Romans. What abomination! It is confusion, says Jehovah. Israel were not to render themselves unclean in any of these things, as in all these did the nations of Canaan which He cast out before them. How much guiltier, if so, would Israel be! The very land was made unclean. Therefore had He visited the iniquity on it. Earth vomited out its inhabitants; so that Israel must beware, not only for themselves, but for any stranger sojourning among them, lest the land should vomit them out, as it had the nations that dwelt there before Israel. For such evil was intolerable in His eyes, and yet more offensive in His own people than in any other; a truth forgotten soon among the Jews, as later in Christendom. "Therefore shall ye observe my charge that ye do not [any] of the abominable customs which were done before you, and that ye make not yourselves unclean therein: I [am] Jehovah your God." It is by receiving the good that is from God, His word and above all His Christ, that souls are kept from evil.
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the LORD your God.
After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances.
Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God.
Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.
None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD.
The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness.
The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover.
The nakedness of thy son's daughter, or of thy daughter's daughter, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover: for theirs is thine own nakedness.
The nakedness of thy father's wife's daughter, begotten of thy father, she is thy sister, thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's sister: she is thy father's near kinswoman.
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother's sister: for she is thy mother's near kinswoman.
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's brother, thou shalt not approach to his wife: she is thine aunt.
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy son's wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife: it is thy brother's nakedness.
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, neither shalt thou take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness.
Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.
Also thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness.
Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife, to defile thyself with her.
And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.
Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you:
And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.
Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you:
(For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;)
That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you.
For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people.
Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.