Leviticus 18 Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
Leviticus 18
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
SECOND SECTION

Holiness of the Marriage Relation

CHAPTER 18

The keeping holy of marriage, of all sexual relations, and of all the relations of life in general.”

CHAPTERS 18–20

A.—“THE KEEPING HOLY OF MARRIAGE AND OF ALL SEXUAL RELATIONS UNDER THE PENALTY OF THE CHEREM.”—LANGE

CHAPTER 18

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PRELIMINARY NOTE

On the “Prohibited Degrees” and on the Marriage Laws of the Heathen

The law declaring under what conditions sexual intercourse is forbidden is given in the present chapter; the punishment of disobedience in the several cases is declared in 20:10–21. The latter is naturally less full, leaving the punishment in some instances to be inferred from analogy; and in one case it is considered by some commentators that there is a slight extension of the law here given. See on 20:20. The law covers all sexual intercourse whether by formal marriage or by simple concubinage; and when the wives of various persons are mentioned, the term includes their wives when living, and their widows when they were themselves dead. It is remarkable that it makes no exception in favor of such marriages as had occurred among the ancestors of the Israelites, as in the case of Jacob, from which they were themselves descended. (The marriage of Abraham with Sarah was probably with his niece, the word sister allowing of this latitude).

The whole law is expressed in reference to the man, since the inception of such relations rests with him; but it would be a mistake to suppose that a precisely parallel list might be drawn up also for the woman. Differences are introduced by the law of the Levirate marriage (an institution much more ancient than the time of Moses, see Gen. 38), and by the general relation of protector and protected; the law therefore applies to the woman only in the case of those relationships in which the man is forbidden to have intercourse with her. Some of the degrees which are prohibited implicitly are not expressly mentioned: thus connection with a daughter is not mentioned by itself, although necessarily involved in the prohibition of intercourse with a woman and her daughter in Lev 18:17; that with a step-mother is included in Lev 18:8, and is especially mentioned as the subject of one of the curses in Deut. 27:23; that with a grandmother is not mentioned at all, either because it was considered unnecessary to do so, or else because it was sufficiently implied by the other prohibitions. The whole law is expressly grounded (Lev 18:2, 3, 24–27) upon the duty of avoiding the abominable customs of the Egyptians and the Canaanites, so that there was the less necessity for express mention of anything which was not practised by them.

The principle on which the prohibitions rest (Lev 18:6) is expressly declared to be nearness of relationship; and although the Hebrew expression employed for this (lit. flesh of his flesh) might in itself apply only to blood relations, yet it is distinctly extended in the law to relations by affinity also, though not always to the same degree. In the remoter degrees the relationship is affected by other considerations, so that in parallel cases, sometimes one connection is forbidden while the other is not mentioned. Generally, the whole list might be included in the single prohibition that no man might be connected with a woman who stood, or who might come to stand to him in the position of a ward; no one who could be included in the family of which he was head. In this connection the LXX. translation in Lev 18:6 is to be noted: ἄνθρωπος πρὸς πάντα οἰκεῖα σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ οὐ προσελεύσεται. Such a description, however, would not be quite accurate, since the niece is not included in the list of prohibited degrees; and there are two prohibited cases which would not come under the description. These are the maternal aunt, who would form a part of the wife’s father’s or brother’s family; and the wife’s sister, forbidden only during the life-time of the wife.

The prohibited degrees may be conveniently arranged under the three following heads:

a. Relations by Blood

1. Mother, Lev 18:7.

2. Aunt on either side, Lev 18:12, 13.

3. Sister and half sister, Lev 18:9, 11.

4. Daughter, Lev 18:17.

5. Grand-daughter, Lev 18:10.

b. Direct Relations by Affinity

6. Mother-in-law, Lev 18:17.

7. Step-mother, Lev 18:8.

8. Step-daughter, Lev 18:17.

9. Step-grand-daughter, Lev 18:17.

c. Indirect Relations by Affinity

10. Father’s brother’s wife, Lev 18:14.

11. Brother’s wife, Lev 18:16.

12. Daughter-in-law, Lev 18:15.

In addition to these there is a temporary prohibition of the wife’s sister during the wife’s own life.

Among the heathen these relationships were very differently regarded. Marriage with a sister was permitted among the Egyptians by express law in consequence of the legend in their mythology of the marriage of Osiris with his sister Isis (Diod. Sic. i. 27; Philo de Sp. Legg. near beginning), and this custom continued, at least in the royal family, quite down to the time of their conquest by the Romans (Dio. Cass. xlii. p. 205, E. ed., Hanover, 1606). With regard to marriage with a mother, direct evidence is wanting in regard to the Canaanites, but among the Modes and the Persians it was practised from the earliest times, as also among the Indians and the Ethiopians. (See the authorities in Knobel), and all these nations appear to have permitted also marriage with a daughter. Marriage with a sister, however, was unknown among the Persians until the time of Cambyses, (Herod. iii. 31). Marriage with a step-mother seems to have been universal among Oriental monarchs, and the inheritance of the father’s seraglio one of the marks of succession to his throne. Hence Solomon’s treatment of Adonijah is to be explained when he sought to have Abishag given to him (1 Kings 2:13–25). Marriage with a wife’s step-mother, however, is not forbidden, and a notable instance of it is in David’s inheriting the wives of his father-in-law Saul, spoken of as a mark of the Divine favor, 2 Sam. 12:8.

The marriages here forbidden are spoken of as crimes in the Canaanites for which they were about to be punished. While it is not, necessary to extend this to each particular, still it must be recognized that the prohibited degrees generally were such as could be understood by the light of nature or such dim tradition of the Divine will as might have been accessible to the Canaanites. Accordingly, it is well known that the prohibited degrees among the Greeks and Romans were for the most part the same as in the laws of Moses. Solon indeed permitted marriage with a half-sister by the father only, and Lycurgus with a half-sister by the mother only (Philo de Sp. Legg., pp. 601, F. El., Geneva, 1613); but the early Roman law went even farther than the Levitical in forbidding marriages between uncles and nieces, and between cousins german, which was only relaxed in the 2d cent, before our era (Liv. xlii. 34; Cic. Proverbs Cluent. V. quoted by Clark). Similar laws, too, might be quoted from other nations, showing that those of the Egyptians and Canaanites were simply a license to passion, contrary to what they might have known to be right.

Marriage with a deceased wife’s sister is clearly allowed under the Levitical law, not merely by not being prohibited; but being prohibited during the lifetime of the sister first taken to wife, it becomes doubly certain that it was permitted afterwards. It is even made still more clear by the reason assigned: the relations of two wives of the same man are not apt to be friendly, and Moses would not allow either that the natural affection of sisters should be subjected to this strain, or that the inevitable animosities of the harem should be increased by the previous familiar relation of sisters. On the other hand, the marriage with a brother’s widow was forbidden, evidently because she became the ward of the surviving brother; and because also if the brother had died childless while she remained his wife, the survivor was bound to take her by a Levirate marriage. In either case her children were to be reckoned to the deceased brother, and hence the penalty for violating this precept in 20:21 is that they shall be childless, i.e., that any children born to such a union should be reckoned in the genealogies, not to them, but to the deceased brother. The law therefore in this case must be considered as based upon questions of civil polity and not upon affinity. Hence it does not apply to the parallel case of the deceased wife’s sister; for she could never have formed a part of her brother-in-law’s household under the family system of the Hebrews. In the punishments denounced in Lev 20 against the sins here prohibited, it will be found that a distinction is made in the degree of guilt. One, and the larger class, is to be capitally punished (in one case even the bodies of both parties are to be burnt), while in the other class the penalty is simply that “they shall be childless.” It cannot be supposed that a perpetual miracle was to be maintained through all the ages of Israel’s history; but the meaning evidently is that the children of such marriages should be reckoned not to their actual father, but to the former husband of the woman. In the strong feeling of the Israelites in regard to posterity, this penalty seems to have been sufficient. (An instance of this use of the word childless is to be found in Jer. 22:30 compared with 1 Chr. 3:17, 18). It is not to be supposed that the more remote of the prohibited degrees were among the abominations for which the Canaanites were to be cut off; but on the other hand adultery and the other horrible sins mentioned in Lev 18:20–23 were undoubtedly among their customs.

Literature.—Michaelis, Laws of Moses; Abhandlung über die Ehegesetze Mosis; Saalschutz, Mos. Recht; Selden, uxor ebr. See also the numerous references in Calmet on this chapter. Also. John Fry, The cases of marriage between near kindred, etc. London, 1756.

 LEVITICUS 18:1–30

1AND the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the LORD your God. 3After 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 bring1 you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances 4[statutes2]. Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances [statutes2], to walk therein: I am the LORD your God. 5Ye shall therefore keep 3my statutes, and 3my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.

6None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin4 to him, to uncover theirnakedness: I am the LORD. 7The nakedness of thy father, or [even5] the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. 8The nakedness of thy father’s wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father’s nakedness. 9The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born6 at home, or born abroad, even their7 nakedness thou shalt not uncoLev 18:10The nakedness of thy son’s daughter, or of thy daughter’s daughter, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover: for their’s is thine own nakedness. 11The nakedness of thy father’s wife’s daughter, begotten of thy father, she is thy sister, thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. 12Thou shall not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s sister:8 she is thy father’s near kinswoman.4 13Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother’s sister: for she is thy mother’s near kinswoman:4 14Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s brother,9 thou shalt not approach to his wife: she is thine aunt. 15Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy son’s wife; 16thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife: it is thy brother’s nakedness. 17Thou 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. 18Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister,10 to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.

19Also thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness. 20Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour’s wife, to defile thyself with her. 21And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech [thou shalt not dedicate any of thy seed to 22Molech11], 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. 23Neither 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.

24Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out12 before you: 25and the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth13 out her inhabitants. 26Ye shall therefore keep13 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: 27(for all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) 28that the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued13 out the nations that were before you. 29For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. 30Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs [statutes2], which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

Lev 18:3 “מֵבִיא. Introducturus sum. Present for the future.” Rosenmüller.

Lev 18:3. חֻקָּה .וּבְחֻקּתֵיהֶם is variously and apparently arbitrarily rendered in the A. V. ordinance and statute, beside the occasional renderings, custom, manner and rite. There is no reason why the translation should not be uniform, and as statute is the more common, and hitherto in Lev. the uniform, rendering, this is adopted.

Lev 18:5. One MS. and the LXX. insert twice the word all. At the end of the verse the LXX. adds your God.

Lev 18:6. אֶל־כָּל־שְׁאֵר בְּשָׂרוֹ, lit. to any flesh of his flesh. The distinction between בָּשָׂר and שְׁאֵר is not understood. The derivative of the latter, שַאֲרָה, is used in Lev 18:17 (where only it occurs) of blood relationship. The margin of the A. V. gives “Heb. remainder of his flesh” according to the pointing, שִׁאָר. In Lev 18:12, 13, שְּׁאֵר is used alone of near blood relationship.

Lev 18:7. That the copulative וְ ought not to be rendered disjunctively as in the A. V. is evident from the latter part of the verse. LXX. has καί, Vulg. et.

Lev 18:9. מוֹלֶדֶת, according to the Masoretic punctuation, is Hiphil, and must therefore be taken as active, agreeing with mother, and mean “who hath borne children whether at home or abroad.” The A. V., however, in common with all the ancient versions, has taken it as passive, מוּלֶדֶת, agreeing with daughter. For the rightfulness of this, Michaelis earnestly contends (Laws of Moses, Art. 114, 115). See Comment.

Lev 18:9. The Sam., 18 MSS. and the Syr. have the pronoun in the sing. The Vulg. omits it.

Lev 18:12. In the same construction in the following verse כִּי = for is supplied; it is found here also in 4 MSS. and in the versions generally.

Lev 18:14. The expletive conjunction וְ is here supplied in the Sam., in 25 MSS., and some ancient versions.

Lev 18:18. There can be here no question of the exact literalness of the rendering of the text of the A. V.; that of the margin is not a translation, but a more than doubtful interpretation. It would be an absolute prohibition of polygamy, which is here out of the question, unless stress were laid, as Poole has done, upon the purpose of such marriage, to vex; but the word לִצְרֹר = to press, to bind together, will not justify this.

Lev 18:21. For לְהַעֲבִיר, Sam. and LXX. read לְהַעֲבִיד = to reduce to servitude. A similar idea, to dedicate, may be given to the Heb. word as it stands. Vulg. ut consecrator, and similarly all the ancient versions. So the word is used, Ex. 13:12. As this is the first mention of Molech, and there is no word for fire, it is better to keep strictly to the original and translate dedicate. Rosenmuller, traducas. The corresponding expressions in 20:2, 3, 4, have simply נָתָּן = to give, without the following verb. According to the Masoretic punctuation Molech is always (except 1 Kings 11:7) written with the article הַמֹּלֶךְ, and is rendered here and 20:2, 3, 4, 5, by the LXX. ἅρχων, but Jer. 32 (Gr. xxxix.) 35, ὁ Μολὸχ βασιλεύς, 1 Kings 11:7 (Gr. 5), simply ὁ βασιλεύς, and 2 Kings 23:10, ὁ Μολόχ.

Lev 18:26. The Heb. has here the pronoun אַתֶּם in addition to the verbal suffix. It is omitted in the Sam. and in 3 MSS.

Lev 18:24, 25, 28. In Lev 18:24 מְשַׁלֵּחַ is the Hiphil Part.= I am casting out, and in accordance with this the preterites וַתַּקִא (which has the ו conversive) of Lev 18:25 and כַּאֲשֶׁרּ קָאָה of Lev 18:28 are to be understood.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

This chapter consists of an introductory exhortation, Lev 18:2–5; the laws against incest, Lev 18:6–18; the prohibition of other kind of unchastity and unnatural crimes, Lev 18:19–23; and a concluding exhortation, Lev 18:24–30. “The whole marriage law, as a holy limitation, marks two mutually opposite extremes or forms of excess: first, sins against the blood relationship, or against the fear of desecrating the common source of life, the community of blood, Lev 18:1–18; secondly, sins of the dissolute disposition, the horrible passing over the life-line of pure marriage, or the new relationship, into the various forms contrary to nature, Lev 18:19–30.” Lange.

Lev 18:2–5. This exhortation opens with reminding the people I am the LORD your God, and closes with the abbreviation of the same formula: I am the LORD. The same expression occurs again in the midst of it (Lev 18:4), and also at the opening of the law itself (Lev 18:6), in the midst of the third division of the chapter (Lev 18:21), and again at the close of the whole. It is designed to impress most strongly upon the minds of the Israelites that the observance of this law is a matter of covenant obligation. And this is enforced by the contrast (Lev 18:3) with the doings of the land of Egypt from which they had been delivered, and the doings of the land of Canaan whose nations were about to be cast out to make room for them. It closes with the promise that if a man do the Divine statutes and judgments, he shall live in them. Not merely, he shall not be cut off by the punishments denounced against the transgression of these laws in Lev 20; but he shall gain that true life of communion with God which accompanies the obedience to His commands. Comp. Ezek. 20:11, 13, 21; Luke 10:28. “This whole legislation bears on its front the name of Jehovah, the God of Israel, Lev 18:2, in the more definite signification that the Israelites should keep themselves holy in their personality, i.e. true to themselves, suitably to their personality, as Jehovah is holy (19:2). But the legislation took its occasion in this: that Israel, as the people hallowed by God, should form an instructive and rebuking contrast to the shameful sexual life of the land of Egypt, whence they had just come out, and that still more shameful of the land of Canaan, whither they were going under the leadership of Jehovah.… That this legislation was not able in later days to prevent transgressions, e.g. in the family of David itself, is explained even from the essential nature of law. From this a careful critic would decide for the high Mosaic age of the law rather than for the contrary.

“That a most highly living intelligence pervades the section results from the various significant expressions: the judgments and statutes of Jehovah (Lev 18:4) become for the people the statutes and judgments (first law, and only afterwards the idea (Lev 18:5).” [Patrick says: “The Gemara Babylonica, mentioning these words, saith, it is a tradition of their doctors that by מִשׁפָּטִים are to be understood such natural laws as all mankind are bound to observe, though there were no written commands for them, such as those against idolatry, and those about uncovering the nakedness of such near relations as are here mentioned, and murder, etc. And by חֻקוֹת such laws are meant as depended only on the pleasure of God, and obliged none but those to whom they were given, such as those about meats and garments and leprosy, etc.” F. G.] “That which is contrary to nature in the marriage of relations consists in this: that the man by his family life, which should be the foundation of new bonds of love and new families, mingles again egotistically with his own flesh (אֵל בֹּל־שְׁאֵר בְשָׂרוֹ); and that by profane conduct he exposed the obscure and hallowed origin of his own life (uncovered the shame), and thus repeated the sin of Ham (for the shame of the wife of near kin is also the shame of the father, 20:11). Therefore also it is necessary to explain the saying which if a man do, he shall live in them in its particular connection: all these directions tend to the furtherance of life, especially of the higher life, while the contrasted sexual relations produce death.

“The case of adultery is not considered, since the reference is to widows when connections with those who have been married before are considered.… The determining principle is that of community of blood (שְׁאֵר). But this is itself determined by the fundamental idea that man and wife are one. Hence it follows that the shame of the father’s wife is also the shame of the father himself (Lev 18:7, 8). The shame of a grand-daughter was looked upon, since she was a descendant, as the shame of the grandfather himself (Lev 18:10). The shame of the sister in-law was thus also looked upon as the shame of the brother.

“As to the guilt and punishment, the death-penalty stands according to 20:11 sqq. for the carnal intercourse (not merely the marrying) with a father’s wife, with a daughter-in-law, with a half sister “[and hence of course with a full sister]; “the punishment was, indeed, death by fire when one took a woman and her daughter together (that is זִמָּה).” [This necessarily includes the case of a daughter, and of a wife’s mother. Michaelis (Laws, Art. 102) considers זִמָּה as a forensic term used to express those forms of incest in which the woman is under the guardianship of the man, and derives the word from the Arabic in which “Zimm means marriage, and Zimma the state of guardianship (Clientela), from the word Zamm, to connect.” This sense is indeed appropriate for the very few places in which it occurs in the law (Lev. 18:17; 19:29; 20:14bis), but elsewhere it is used for any abominable wickedness (as Job 31:11) especially lewdness (Judg. 20:6). See Gesen. Thes.—F. G.]. “It is said indefinitely of the intercourse with a sister of the father or of the mother, they shall bear their iniquity (עֲוֹן).” [20:19. Michaelis (Art. 112, 2) observes in regard to these and the following kinds of prohibited marriages, that Moses tolerated “their continuance, if once consummated. At least he nowhere enjoins a separation of the parties.” It might be argued, indeed, that a forbidden marriage was utterly void, and therefore that its sin was constantly renewed as long as the parties continued to sustain towards each other the marriage relation; but certainly the penalty in the two following classes presupposes that they continued to live together.—F. G.]. “In contrast with this, it is said of him who slept with his father’s brother’s wife, they shall bear their sin (חֶטְאָם); they shall die childless” [20:20]. “So also of the case when any one takes his brother’s wife, that is נִדָּה (Levitical uncleanness), they shall be childless” [20:21]. “Thus the social punishment is not wholly absent here also, but the principal thing was the threat of the Divine punishment of these connections with childlessness.” [On the meaning of this punishment, see the preliminary note.—F. G.]. “Since in all these cases the willingness on the woman’s side is assumed, the threat of the penalty is for both sides alike. It is worth while to notice also the circumstance that the penal statutes which refer to the marriage of relations are mingled with other penal statutes (20:13, 15, 16), a proof that, here in chap. 20 another point of view is brought forward. But if in regard to the prohibition of the marriage with a brother’s widow childlessness was threatened, while later the prohibition could be changed relatively into a command in the ordinance of the Levirate marriage” [the Levirate marriage took place only in case the brother died childless—F. G.]; “still there is made definitely prominent a principal end of the legislation in the manifold threat of childlessness, which evidently extended also over the greater transgressions or reached the Cherem: marriage was to be protected, observed, and kept holy as the nursery for the raising of children, for new families, and truly for pure and hallowed families (comp. Com. on Jno.. p. 47” [Am. Ed., p. 111]).

“It is well known that in the treatment of these prohibited degrees of marriage various motives have been given, among others the following: the diminution and prevention of families in the marriage of relations. This motive comes out strongly here. Also in the expression in Lev 18:5, he shall live by them.” [A broader meaning may be given, as above, to Lev 18:5, and the threat of childlessness has already been explained (prel. note) as referring to the legal reckoning of the children. If childlessness could be proved to be a natural penalty of the inter-marriage of near blood relations, it would yet wholly fail to apply to cases of simple affinity, to which alone the penalty is attached in the law. Very striking is its inapplicability to the marriage with a brother’s wife, for if such a natural law existed, the Levirate marriage would have been wholly useless.—F. G.]. “But no less is there another motive here implied: the respect of kinship, (respectus parentelæ), and even the forcible expression uncover the nakedness only brings out strongly the impiety which, in such cases, uncovers the fountains of its own life, which have been hitherto concealed by natural respect.” [See this point discussed at length in Michaelis (Art. 107) who decides that it had no influence in the Mosaic legislation.—F. G.]. “And it is plain, that with this unnatural going back of men to the roots of their own existence in this perversion of marriage, which is the specific school of the future, into a retrogressive movement, it must immediately follow that family egoism will be at the same time ever more and more cherished; whereas the Theocracy, as the religion of the future, seeks to establish marriage on the basis of ever new conditions of love, for the purpose of building up a most intimate, fellowship in the human family.”14 [See this motive also discussed and rejected by Michaelis, Art. 106.—F. G.].

“It is well known that the hierarchy and its theology has not only not explained ideally the law of the marriages of relations, has not only brought it over unchanged into the new covenant; but has also stiffened it still more by another calculation of the degrees of relationship, by the addition of spiritual relationships, and by the prohibition to marry the sister of a deceased sister15 [wife]. In regard to heathen marriage customs, see Knobel, p. 502 sqq.

“That these marriage laws of Leviticus form a great and sharp contrast to the immoral customs of the Egyptians and the Canaanites expresses the very cause of this legislation. More in regard to the immorality of the heathen may be found in Knobel, p. 502 sqq., in Keil, p. 127 sqq.” [Trans, p. 413 note, p. 418], “and especially in the Historisch-politischen Briefen of I. v. Raumer, p. 29 sqq. It is particularly worthy of notice that the Arabian morals have the greatest resemblance to these morals of the law, which may perhaps be explained from their Semitic character.” [But the legislation of the Japhetic Greeks and Romans, and of the Hindoos for the higher castes was even more strict, as noted by Lange below; and the doom pronounced upon the Canaanites certainly implies that their sins were such as might be recognized in any nation by the light of nature.—F. G.]. “The lascivious service of lust of the Egyptians, illustrated by Ptolemy’s marriage with his sister, and by the history of Cleopatra, would appear the more remarkable since the Egyptian customs and religion on all sides admonished of death; but perhaps, indeed, this fact depends upon a connection between sexual pleasure and the thought of death, as e.g., in war and camp life, such a connection is to be observed. Besides the Arabian customs, the harsher character of the Hindoo and of the Roman legislation is to be particularly noticed.” Lange.

Lev 18:6–18. The phrase uncover the nakedness continued to be used to express sexual intercourse through many ages. Comp. Ezek. 16:36; 23:18. The list of prohibited degrees begins appropriately with the mother. Her nakedness is described as the nakedness of thy father, since husband and wife constitute “one flesh,” Gen. 2:24. “Strictly speaking גִלָּה עֶרְוָה is used only with reference to the wife; but in the dishonoring of his wife the honor of the husband is violated also, and his bed defiled, Gen. 49:4.” Keil. Comp. Lev 18:8. Rosenmüller explains the phrase as meaning the nakedness which is (or was) under the control of the father. The Targ. of Jonathan assumes an ellipsis, and renders “a woman shall not cohabit with her father, nor a man with his mother,” which is neither agreeable to the Hebrew, nor consistent with the fact that the whole law is addressed to the man. Aben Ezra, as quoted by Rosenmüller, well expresses the arrangement: “He begins with the father, who precedes the son, and declares forbidden all nakedness of the father and mother; the mother is placed first, then the nakedness of the wife of the father who is not the mother, then the sister who is the daughter of the father or of the mother.” In Lev 18:8 thy father’s wife refers to another wife than the mother of the person addressed, and the term wife is of course broad enough to include the concubine. The sinfulness of this act, as in the case of Reuben (Gen. 35:22; 49:3, 4) was understood long before the giving of the Mosaic law, and continued to be held in abomination among the Gentiles in Apostolic days (1 Cor. 5:1); nevertheless it was one of the crimes of which Absalom was deliberately guilty (2 Sam. 16:22), and as already noticed, it was regularly practised by the monarchs of Persia.—Thy father’s nakedness is used in the same sense as in Lev 18:7. Connection with a half-sister on either side being forbidden in Lev 18:9, that with a full sister, since she might, be described as a half-sister on both sides, is doubly forbidden. The expression born at home or born abroad has been variously interpreted. The true sense is undoubtedly that given by Rosenmüller, “a sister in whatever way she may be a sister, whether of the same or of different parents, whether legitimately or illegitimately born.” Thus are included the daughter of either father or mother by either a previous or a subsequent marriage (and these cases would have been much more frequent under laws allowing of divorce and remarriage), or the daughter of the father by another wife; also illegitimate children of either. The marriage of Abraham and Sarah is often referred to as an instance in opposition to this law; but it is more probable that the word sister is there used in the broader sense, and that Sarah was really the niece of Abraham. Lev 18:10. Theirs’ is thine own nakedness.—Because of their direct descent, intercourse with them would involve a sort of incest with one’s self. Of course this would apply à fortiori to the case of a daughter which is not specifically mentioned, but is included in the prohibition of Lev 18:17. The prohibition of Lev 18:11 of the half-sister on the father’s side seems already included in the broader one of Lev 18:9. Various explanations have been given to mark a difference between them, among which perhaps the best is that of Keil: that Lev 18:9 treats of the connection of a son by a second marriage with a daughter by a first marriage, while Lev 18:11 applies to the connection of a son by a first marriage with a daughter by a subsequent marriage; but this seems an undue limitation of Lev 18:9. Probably there was at the time some technical use of the terms which constituted a distinction which is now lost. According to Selden (Uxor Hebr. L. I. c. 4) Lev 18:11 admits of the translation “The nakedness of thy father’s wife’s daughter (but she who is begotten of thy father is thy sister) thou shalt not uncover;” thereby meaning to forbid connection with the daughter of a step-mother, and marking this as a distinct prohibition from that of the half-sister. Intercourse with an aunt on either the father’s or the mother’s side is forbidden in Lev 18:12, 13, on the principle of near blood relationship; but there is no prohibition of marriage with the corresponding relation of niece. The reason of this distinction is not apparent. According to Ex. 6:20, Moses was himself the offspring of the marriage of Amram with Jochebed, his paternal aunt. This would indicate that this prohibited degree is a matter of the Divine statute rather than of natural law, and was not therefore necessarily extended to the niece. In Lev 18:14 the prohibition is extended to the wife of the paternal uncle, as having become an aunt by her union with the uncle. It would not however follow from this that the law forbade the marriage of a woman with the husband of her aunt, since in consequence of the dependence of the family upon the male in the Hebrew polity, the corresponding relations upon the mother’s side stood in a less intimate relation than those upon the father’s. In the reverse order, however, the prohibition is more stringent upon the woman than upon the man, since a woman is hereby forbidden to marry her husband’s nephew, while the man is not forbidden to marry his wife’s niece. The application of this principle to Lev 18:15 would seem at first sight to lead to the permission of the abominable marriage of a woman with her son-in-law; but this is guarded against by Lev 18:17. The prohibition of intercourse with a brother’s wife in connection with the more ancient custom of the levirate marriage has already been explained in the preliminary note. It is particularly to be observed that the levirate marriage only took place in case the brother had died childless, and she was still his wife at his death, and that even then it was not so much a fresh marriage, as a sort of continuance of the marriage of the deceased by his nearest surviving representative. The prohibitions of Lev 18:17 have already been seen to complement several of the other prohibitions, and the principle which forbids the connection with both a mother and a daughter is extended also to the grand-daughter. On Lev 18:18 see preliminary note.

“Keeping the seed sacred to its purpose, is as has been said the fundamental thought of our section. Hence over against the physico-spiritual sins against nature of marriage of blood relations is placed, as the other extreme, the violation of nature in desecrating the blood with beasts or demons. The first sin is, indeed, a violation of nature which can take place in marriage itself, the transgressing the unapproachableness of a woman in her sickness. But a sickness in sexual relation is certainly the condition of menstruation, Lev 18:19.” [After the list of prohibited degrees, whether of consanguinity or of affinity, naturally follows the prohibition of other unlawful conditions of sexual intercourse. First is mentioned that of which there was the greatest danger of violation. The feminine uncleanness here named is the נִדָּה, including both the monthly uncleanness (15:33) and the uncleanness after childbirth (12:2). The violation of this is enumerated by Ezek. (18:6; 22:10) among sins of a most serious character. Next comes adultery (Lev 18:20), then the giving of the seed to Molech (Lev 18:21), and finally sodomy (Lev 18:22), and bestial sins (Lev 18:23).—F. G.]. “The second sin is adultery: it defiles a man in three and four ways, since he commits treason against the teleology of his seed, against his personal dignity, against the sacrifice of his pleasure, and against his betrayed neighbor. On the punishment of adultery see Knobel, p. 506.” [Both parties were to be put to death, 20:10; Deut. 22:22; Comp. Jno. 8:5. Knobel further notes that other nations of antiquity were less rigorous; they generally punished the adulterer with a fine (Diod. 12, 21), but also more severely. Among the Egyptians the adulterer must submit to a thousand blows and have his nose cut off (Diod. 1, 78); among the Indians both pecuniary and bodily punishment as well as exile and death were commanded (Manu 8, 352 ss.); among the Greeks, the woman suffered repudiation and infamy, while the adulterer could be put to death or receive from the court a severe bodily punishment (Wachsmuth II. 1, p. 272). Knobel further mentions the punishments among the Moslems and the modern Orientals.—F. G.]. “The third sin is the sacrifice to Molech, here manifestly infanticide and falling away from the name of Jehovah at once. Knobel: “By this is meant not a mere lustration by means of fire, but an actual burning. See Movers. Phonizier I., p. 328 sqq. On the Molech sacrifice, see the same, p. 506. Opposed to this, the deductions of Keil, that the expression here indicates only a lustration or a februation (P. 130, 131 [Trans. p. 416, 417]) can hardly be maintained.” [The precise purport of this prohibition is very uncertain. In Deut. 12:31, it is mentioned as a sin of the Canaanites that “even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods,” and the Israelites are warned against imitating them. It is generally assumed by commentators that the deity there intended is Molech, and that by seedin our passage is meant children, and that thus both refer to the same thing. But here we have no mention of fire (see Textual Note 9), and it is at least doubtful if seed here means offspring. Although explanations are offered by the commentators of such an abrupt change of subject, yet it is far more in accordance with the context and the general purpose of the chapter to understand seed here simply of the semen. Too little is now known of the worship of Molech at this very ancient date to determine precisely the meaning of the expression. It is noticeable, however, that there is no other prohibition of the foul habit of masturbation, for which there seems to be need; may it not be conjectured that this act was known as “giving one’s seed to Molech,” and was associated with the practices of idolatry? The sin, whatever it was, connected itself with the worship of a false god as is shown by the clause neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God. It was not only itself to be punished with death by stoning; but punishment was also denounced against any one who saw the sin committed and did not expose it (20:2–6). If the above conjecture is right, it was very natural that in after times this custom should have advanced, as it did, to the actual burning of children as a sacrifice to Molech (2 Ki. 23:10; Ezek. 16:20, 21, etc.), though even this is explained by many of merely passing the children between two fires.—F. G.]. “The fourth sin is the especially abominable sin of Sodom, Pœderastia, for which the Canaani es at last received the sentence, that their land should “spue them out;” nature herself could no more endure them. See 1 Kings, Commentary p. 56” [Trans. p. 75?] “The fifth sin is the acme of abominableness, conjunction with a beast, and yet this was something that occurred, or else the law would not have spoken of it. According to Herodotus and Pindar, women at Mendes let themselves be mounted by a he-goat (Herod. 2, 46, etc.).” Knobel. See similar examples given by the same.” [The fearful prevalence of Sodomy, (which takes its name from a Canaanitish city), in the Rome of Apostolic days is evident from Rom. 1:24, 27, as well as from the classic authors. The practice of it seems to have been inveterate among the Hebrews, 1 Kings 14:24. “Lev 18:22. The ancient Persian law sternly condemned this offence (Vendid. viii. 10 ap. Knobel). Also the Hindoo law (Menu xi. 174, 175), and the Koran, vii. 78–80. Lev 18:23. The story of Pasiphæ may furnish proof that the early Greeks abhorred this offence. The Hindoo law punishes it severely Menu xi. 17, Gentoo laws, p. 280. The Moslem law condemns it, Hedaya II., p. 27.” Clark.—F. G.]. “The following inculcation of these prohibitions, Lev 18:24–30, contains the most expressive apology for the conquest of Canaan on the part of the Israelites; and that this was no partiality of Jehovah, is plain from the fact that He threatens the Israelites with entirely the same punishment in case they should sin in the same way, and moreover, that He enacts the death penalty for the single offender.” Lange.

The poetic representation of the land as vomiting out its inhabitants is founded upon a truth which required that the laws of this chapter should be made binding upon the stranger that sojourneth among you as well as upon the Israelites themselves (Lev 18:26). The land which the ancestors of Israel were not allowed to possess, “because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full” (Gen. 15:16), had now become filled with a mass of festering moral corruption. Its inhabitants were to be cast out and the holy people planted in their stead. It could not be allowed that “the stranger” should again introduce the pollutions which were now being so severely punished.

The only punishment here threatened for the violation of these precepts is first the national one, in case the sins became national, of being treated as their predecessors had been; and secondly, the individual punishment for individual offenders (Lev 18:29), they shall be cut off from among their people. They were to be excommunicated as violators of the holiness required of the covenant people. Israel, however, constituted a state as well as a church, and later, in Lev 20, the civil punishment of these crimes is fully prescribed. Here the legislator speaks of the sin rather than of the crime, and consequently of the spiritual rather than the civil penalty.

The preterites of Lev 18:25וַתָּקִא (A. V. vomiteth out) and Lev 18:28קָאָה (A. V. spued out) must necessarily be determined in their sense by the whole context, and especially by the מְשַׁלֵּחַ = I am casting out, of Lev 18:24. The whole transaction is represented as one in progress, as in 20:23 (where the same participle is used), and from any fair consideration of these chapters in themselves it would be impossible to infer that the casting out of the Canaanites was already an accomplished fact. It is therefore quite unnecessary to speak of these preterites (Keil), as prophetic.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

I. We have here set forth (Lev 18:5) the principle which St. Paul declares (Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12) to be the fundamental principle of the whole law,—that salvation depends upon obedience. On this ground he shows that man can never attain justification, since it is impossible for him to offer a perfect obedience. The law by a practical demonstration of this fact becomes “our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.” Nevertheless, “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12), and the faith which leads to salvation is dead without the earnest effort at obedience. Hence God sets forth His laws as that which if a man do he shall live in them, and it has ever proved that the path of obedience is the path of life in every sense.

II. “The family relationship is itself ordained by God. It is the birthplace of the children of God—the first school, and generally the source of all chastity and good manners. Any injury inflicted on it would undermine the temporal and eternal welfare both of individuals and of the people. In this lies the abomination of incest. This is the reason of that natural horror of it which God has implanted in us. This is the reason that, among all nations, marriage within certain degrees was forbidden, although the laws of the most moral nations wavered in respect to the exact boundaries.… Because this was the reason of the prohibited degrees, we see also why, in the family of the first men, when there was no difference between family and people, brothers and sisters might marry without sin.” O. von Gerlach.

III. The Canaanites were to be punished for their offences against the marriage law. But they would not have been guilty if they had had no knowledge that what they did was wrong, (Rom. 4:15; 5:13). It is therefore evident that there must be a natural law or a tradition of primeval revelation which should have enabled them to recognize the sinfulness of their customs.

IV. Although the Mosaic legislation recognizes polygamy and divorce on trivial grounds, yet still it cannot be arrayed as in opposition to the higher law of Christian purity. On the contrary, like the laws of revenge and many others, these laws were restrictions leading the people as they were able to bear it towards the higher law of the Gospel. That they fell short of this was simply because God suffered it to be so temporarily “because of the hardness of men’s hearts.”

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

“The chapter about the forbidden degrees of marriage has in its immediate form a much greater meaning for dogmatics, morals, and the legal and ecclesiastical ordinance of marriage, than it has for homiletics. The New Testament explanation and application of this law is so great a subject and work, that here we must refer to the literature relating thereto. But indirectly, these laws are a treasury also for homiletics. By the prohibition of the marriage of relations, God ever forms new sets of relationships. By this He brings to view the universal relationship which lies upon the foundation of human manifoldness and diversity. He manifests harmony in the contrasts of genealogies. He freshens anew the duty of love in a thousand ways; and freshens, too, marriage in a thousand ways through love. Sexual love, in its dignity, is here hallowed through the law. Strangers and aliens become, by this divine ordinance, relatives, brothers and friends; a holy web of love, in spite of single desecrations, spreads from town to town, from land to land, from people to people. The egoism of family, rank, and class, is a kind of heathenism which this law combats with a prefigurative force, and Christianity meets by its consecration of the state of betrothal on the foundation of Christian brotherly love and universal philanthropy. The expression of these prohibitions of marriage designates the transgressions without any anxious fear except to oppose with strong words the lack of fear in life, and to create a holy fear before the sources of life, the mysterious darkness of the continuous creation of man. When the ideality of the legal life fails, there is made prominent the marked unhallowed nakedness and rudeness of the sexual relations. The various forms and degrees of guilt are to be noticed. Over against the offences against the family life in too near relationship, come the horrors of the sexual crimes against nature (Lev 18:21 sqq. Comp. Rom. 1). The flagrant violation of nature is emphasized by the threat that the violated nature, the horrified land, would itself undertake the punishment, and spue out such sinners. But the positive punishments also were not to be omitted (chap. 20). And it must not be overlooked that Jehovah introduces and closes these commands with the explanation of His name Jehovah, His holy personality. The establishment of personal dignity in a kingdom of true personal continuance in love, is the purpose of the law.” Lange.

Besides its moral and social bearings, the Levitical law has another and most important aspect. It has been found historically that all great deviations from the faith bear fruit, sooner or later, in sensual sins; and conversely, all relaxation of the law of sexual purity has sustained itself by the denial or perversion of fundamental doctrine. The Levitical law was therefore a safeguard of the truth, and herein men received an essential part of their training, not merely for the high morality, but also for the high religious truth of the Gospel. We see at Corinth how danger to the one went hand in hand with danger to the other.

Footnotes: 

1Lev 18:3 “מֵבִיא. Introducturus sum. Present for the future.” Rosenmüller.

2Lev 18:3. חֻקָּה .וּבְחֻקּתֵיהֶם is variously and apparently arbitrarily rendered in the A. V. ordinance and statute, beside the occasional renderings, custom, manner and rite. There is no reason why the translation should not be uniform, and as statute is the more common, and hitherto in Lev. the uniform, rendering, this is adopted.

3Lev 18:5. One MS. and the LXX. insert twice the word all. At the end of the verse the LXX. adds your God.

4Lev 18:6. אֶל־כָּל־שְׁאֵר בְּשָׂרוֹ, lit. to any flesh of his flesh. The distinction between בָּשָׂר and שְׁאֵר is not understood. The derivative of the latter, שַאֲרָה, is used in Lev 18:17 (where only it occurs) of blood relationship. The margin of the A. V. gives “Heb. remainder of his flesh” according to the pointing, שִׁאָר. In Lev 18:12, 13, שְּׁאֵר is used alone of near blood relationship.

5Lev 18:7. That the copulative וְ ought not to be rendered disjunctively as in the A. V. is evident from the latter part of the verse. LXX. has καί, Vulg. et.

6Lev 18:9. מוֹלֶדֶת, according to the Masoretic punctuation, is Hiphil, and must therefore be taken as active, agreeing with mother, and mean “who hath borne children whether at home or abroad.” The A. V., however, in common with all the ancient versions, has taken it as passive, מוּלֶדֶת, agreeing with daughter. For the rightfulness of this, Michaelis earnestly contends (Laws of Moses, Art. 114, 115). See Comment.

7Lev 18:9. The Sam., 18 MSS. and the Syr. have the pronoun in the sing. The Vulg. omits it.

8Lev 18:12. In the same construction in the following verse כִּי = for is supplied; it is found here also in 4 MSS. and in the versions generally.

9Lev 18:14. The expletive conjunction וְ is here supplied in the Sam., in 25 MSS., and some ancient versions.

10Lev 18:18. There can be here no question of the exact literalness of the rendering of the text of the A. V.; that of the margin is not a translation, but a more than doubtful interpretation. It would be an absolute prohibition of polygamy, which is here out of the question, unless stress were laid, as Poole has done, upon the purpose of such marriage, to vex; but the word לִצְרֹר = to press, to bind together, will not justify this.

11Lev 18:21. For לְהַעֲבִיר, Sam. and LXX. read לְהַעֲבִיד = to reduce to servitude. A similar idea, to dedicate, may be given to the Heb. word as it stands. Vulg. ut consecrator, and similarly all the ancient versions. So the word is used, Ex. 13:12. As this is the first mention of Molech, and there is no word for fire, it is better to keep strictly to the original and translate dedicate. Rosenmuller, traducas. The corresponding expressions in 20:2, 3, 4, have simply נָתָּן = to give, without the following verb. According to the Masoretic punctuation Molech is always (except 1 Kings 11:7) written with the article הַמֹּלֶךְ, and is rendered here and 20:2, 3, 4, 5, by the LXX. ἅρχων, but Jer. 32 (Gr. xxxix.) 35, ὁ Μολὸχ βασιλεύς, 1 Kings 11:7 (Gr. 5), simply ὁ βασιλεύς, and 2 Kings 23:10, ὁ Μολόχ.

12Lev 18:24, 25, 28. In Lev 18:24 מְשַׁלֵּחַ is the Hiphil Part.= I am casting out, and in accordance with this the preterites וַתַּקִא (which has the ו conversive) of Lev 18:25 and כַּאֲשֶׁרּ קָאָה of Lev 18:28 are to be understood.

13Lev 18:26. The Heb. has here the pronoun אַתֶּם in addition to the verbal suffix. It is omitted in the Sam. and in 3 MSS.

14Comp. Winer, Art. Ehe. Herzog’s Real-Encyclopädie, Ehe bei den Hebräern u. a. Lexica. H. Spoudlin, Ueber das Eheverbot wegen rerwandtschaft und das verbrechen des Incestes, Zurich, 1844. The same, p. 13: “die richtige Begrundung von Augustin.

15“Here comes into notice the illiberal article in the English law, which has already produced many tragic occurrences.”

 
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

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