Leviticus 19:23
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.
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(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.

Leviticus 19:23. As uncircumcised — That is, as unclean, not to be eaten, but cast away, because the fruit then was less wholesome, and because hereby men were taught to bridle their appetites; a lesson of great use and absolute necessity in a holy life.

19:1-37 laws. - There are some ceremonial precepts in this chapter, but most of these precepts are binding on us, for they are explanations of the ten commandments. It is required that Israel be a holy people, because the God of Israel is a holy God, ver. 2. To teach real separation from the world and the flesh, and entire devotedness to God. This is now the law of Christ; may the Lord bring every thought within us into obedience to it! Children are to be obedient to their parents, ver. 3. The fear here required includes inward reverence and esteem, outward respect and obedience, care to please them and to make them easy. God only is to be worshipped, ver. 4. Turn not from the true God to false ones, from the God who will make you holy and happy, to those that will deceive you, and make you for ever miserable. Turn not your eyes to them, much less your heart. They should leave the gleanings of their harvest and vintage for the poor, ver. 9. Works of piety must be always attended with works of charity, according to our ability. We must not be covetous, griping, and greedy of every thing we can lay claim to, nor insist upon our right in all things. We are to be honest and true in all our dealings, ver. 11. Whatever we have in the world, we must see that we get it honestly, for we cannot be truly rich, or long rich, with that which is not so. Reverence to the sacred name of God must be shown, ver. 12. We must not detain what belongs to another, particularly the wages of the hireling, ver. 13. We must be tender of the credit and safety of those that cannot help themselves, ver. 14. Do no hurt to any, because they are unwilling or unable to avenge themselves. We ought to take heed of doing any thing which may occasion our weak brother to fall. The fear of God should keep us from doing wrong things, though they will not expose us to men's anger. Judges, and all in authority, are commanded to give judgment without partiality, ver. 15. To be a tale-bearer, and to sow discord among neighbours, is as bad an office as a man can put himself into. We are to rebuke our neighbour in love, ver. 17. Rather rebuke him than hate him, for an injury done to thyself. We incur guilt by not reproving; it is hating our brother. We should say, I will do him the kindness to tell him of his faults. We are to put off all malice, and to put on brotherly love, ver. 18. We often wrong ourselves, but we soon forgive ourselves those wrongs, and they do not at all lessen our love to ourselves; in like manner we should love our neighbour. We must in many cases deny ourselves for the good of our neighbour. Ver. 31: For Christians to have their fortunes told, to use spells and charms, or the like, is a sad affront to God. They must be grossly ignorant who ask, What harm is there in these things? Here is a charge to young people to show respect to the aged, ver. 32. Religion teaches good manners, and obliges us to honour those to whom honour is due. A charge was given to the Israelites to be very tender of strangers, ver. 33. Strangers, and the widows and fatherless, are God's particular care. It is at our peril, if we do them any wrong. Strangers shall be welcome to God's grace; we should do what we can to recommend religion to them. Justice in weights and measures is commanded, ver. 35. We must make conscience of obeying God's precepts. We are not to pick and choose our duty, but must aim at standing complete in all the will of God. And the nearer our lives and tempers are to the precepts of God's law, the happier shall we be, and the happier shall we make all around us, and the better shall we adorn the gospel.Fruit ... uncircumcised - i. e. unfit for presentation to Yahweh. In regard to its spiritual lesson, this law may be compared with the dedication of the first-born of beasts to Yahweh Exodus 13:12; Exodus 34:19. Its meaning in a moral point of view was plain, and tended to illustrate the spirit of the whole Law. 23-25. ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised; three years … it shall not be eaten of—"The wisdom of this law is very striking. Every gardener will teach us not to let fruit trees bear in their earliest years, but to pluck off the blossoms: and for this reason, that they will thus thrive the better, and bear more abundantly afterwards. The very expression, 'to regard them as uncircumcised,' suggests the propriety of pinching them off; I do not say cutting them off, because it is generally the hand, and not a knife, that is employed in this operation" [Michaelis]. As uncircumcised, i.e. as unclean, not to be eaten, but cast away, and counted abominable, as the foreskins are.

Three years. This precept was serviceable,

1. To the trees themselves, which grew the better and faster, being early stript of those fruits, which otherwise would have derived to themselves and drawn away much more of the strength from the root and tree.

2. To men, both because the fruit then was waterish, undigested, and unwholesome, and because hereby men were taught to bridle their appetites; a lesson of great use and absolute necessity in a godly life.

3. To God, who required and deserved the first-fruits, which must be also of the best, and so they could not be in this time.

And when ye shall come into the land,.... The land of Canaan, whither they were now going:

and shall have planted all manner of trees for food; such that brought forth fruit that was eatable, as figs, grapes, olives, &c. so that all such trees as did not bear fruit fit for man's food came not under the following law; nor such as grew up of themselves and were not planted; nor such as were planted for any other use than for fruit; nor such as were planted by the Canaanites before the Israelites came into their land; for so say the Jews, what were planted for an hedge or for timber are free from the law; and add, at the time our fathers came into the land, what they found planted was free, what they planted, though they had not subdued it (the land), was bound:

then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised; not fit to be eaten, but to be taken off and cast away as the foreskin of the flesh:

three years it shall be as uncircumcised unto you, it shall not be eaten of; which was a provision partly for the benefit of fruit trees newly planted, whose fruit, when they first bear, gardeners frequently take off immediately, and do not suffer them to grow to any perfection, by which means a tree will grow stronger, and will bear more and better fruit another year; and partly for the health of man, which physical reason is given by Aben Ezra, who observes that the fruit that comes unto the third year there is no profit by it, but is hurtful; and chiefly because, as it is proper that the first fruits should be given to the Lord before any is eaten, so it is right that it should be given seasonably, and when it is brought to its perfection: three years were to be reckoned, as Jarchi and Ben Gersom say, from the time the tree was planted.

And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye {h} shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of.

(h) It shall be unclean as that thing, which is not circumcised.

23. The fruit tree in its first three years is to be regarded as a male infant during his first eight days (Dillm.), i.e. as unconsecrated. Probably the object was to allow the tree time to become accustomed to the soil, and so to postpone the enjoyment of the fruit till both quantity and quality had had time to develop. This agrees with the direction in Leviticus 19:24 that in the fourth year it should be dedicated to the Lord. Of the manner in which this dedication was to be carried out we are ignorant, but the hallowing itself was on the same principle as that of the firstborn of mankind and of cattle (Exodus 13:2). For a festive celebration, apparently of the kind contemplated in this v., cp. Jdg 9:27 (with R.V. mg.).

Verses 23-25. - The eating of the fruit of young trees by their owners for five years is forbidden, on the principle that such fruit is unclean until it has been sanctified by the offering of a crop as firstfruits to the Lord for the use of the servants of the tabernacle, and a full crop is not to be expected until the fourth year from the time that the trees were planted. The fruit is at first to be counted as uncircumcised, being regarded in a position similar to that of the heathen, that is, unclean, from not having been yet sanctified by the offering of the firstfruits. This sanctification takes place in the fourth year. Leviticus 19:23The garden-fruit was also to be sanctified to the Lord. When the Israelites had planted all kinds of fruit-trees in the land of Canaan, they were to treat the fruit of every tree as uncircumcised for the first three years, i.e., not to eat it, as being uncircumcised. The singular suffix in ערלתו refers to כּל, and the verb ערל is a denom. from ערלה, to make into a foreskin, to treat as uncircumcised, i.e., to throw away as unclean or uneatable. The reason for this command is not to be sought for in the fact, that in the first three years fruit-trees bear only a little fruit, and that somewhat insipid, and that if the blossom or fruit is broken off the first year, the trees will bear all the more plentifully afterwards (Aben Esra, Clericus, J. D. Mich.), though this end would no doubt be thereby attained; but it rests rather upon ethical grounds. Israel was to treat the fruits of horticulture with the most careful regard as a gift of God, and sanctify the enjoyment of them by a thank-offering. In the fourth year the whole of the fruit was to be a holiness of praise for Jehovah, i.e., to be offered to the Lord as a holy sacrificial gift, in praise and thanksgiving for the blessing which He had bestowed upon the fruit-trees. This offering falls into the category of first-fruits, and was no doubt given up entirely to the Lord for the servants of the altar; although the expression הלּוּלים עשׂה (Judges 9:27) seems to point to sacrificial meals of the first-fruits, that had already been reaped: and this is the way in which Josephus has explained the command (Ant. iv. 8, 19). For (Leviticus 19:25) they were not to eat the fruits till the fifth year, "to add (increase) its produce to you," viz., by the blessing of God, not by breaking off the fruits that might set in the first years.
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